If you ever have been completely stuck on the golf course, you likely heard about an unplayable lie. If you found your ball behind a tree or next to a bush with just no possible way to swing the club, you likely have used the rule to your advantage. .

When the rules of golf were implemented, these concepts were considered, and the developers of the rules knew that this would happen at certain times. Therefore the unplayable ball rule by the USGA was created to help ensure that no matter where your ball is located on the golf course, you are entitled to some type of relief.

Let’s take a look at when you can take an unplayable lie and the best way to do it.

When can you take an unplayable lie

A golfer can take an unplayable lie anytime they would like, as long as the ball is not in a hazard.  If your ball is in a water hazard or protected area and it is marked as a hazard, you cannot take an unplayable lie. However, when you are in a bunker, you are entitled to declare a ball unplayable.

For golfers that are playing with a caddy or a playing partner, the only person that can declare the ball unplayable is the person whose golf ball it is.

When can you declare a ball unplayable

image of golf ball stuck on water - AEC InfoDeclaring a ball unplayable means that you will use the unplayable ball relief rule under the rules of golf and take proper relief and a penalty. When you declare a ball unplayable, you are announcing that you will take the penalty for moving it to a position that is then playable.

The only time you are not able to declare a ball unplayable is when you are in a hazard. When in a hazard, you must follow the standard rules for relief from a hazard. 

How to take an unplayable lie

Now that you know where you can take an unplayable lie, it makes sense to know how to take an unplayable lie. Most people think that you simply take two club-lengths, and a shot, and you can be on your way. However, sometimes knowing the rules of golf and how they can help you will ensure that you are able to get the proper relief and the most benefit from the stroke you took.

Two club length – (Lateral relief)

The two club length rules are considered the most common type of relief from a hazard. When you take this type of relief, you will take one penalty stroke, mark your ball, and then take two club lengths from there. When you take two club lengths of relief, you can use any club in your bag.

This is why most people will use the driver when they are using the two club length penalty. This gives you the most room to pick a better location and hit a clean and clear shot. The two club lengths that you take can be in any direction, but you cannot move the ball any closer to the hole.

Out of all the relief options, this is the most popular, and you can use this option in a bunker as well. However, if you want to keep it to just a one stroke penalty, the ball must still remain in the bunker, even after taking the two club length unplayable lie.

Stroke and distance relief

image of punch out golf shot from under a tree - AEC InfoThe stroke and distance relief mean that you will hit another shot from the position of your previous stroke. Let’s say that you hit a golf shot, and it is pinned behind trees in a forest with bushes and lots of other debris around it.

If you can see the ball, you can declare it an unplayable ball and give yourself another shot from the tee. This will be one stroke penalty, but golfers need to consider whether or not this is one of the smarter players they should take.

Think about the fact that when you take stroke and distance, you are going to be going way back to the tee and be quite far from where you currently are. Even though this is only a one stroke penalty, the distance factor makes it almost feel like two.

The stroke and distance are the most difficult of the relief options.

Back on The Line

The last option is that you can take a penalty stroke and take the ball back on a line from where it currently rests and where you were when you last hit the ball.image of umplayable ball - AEC Info The great thing about going back on the line is that you can go back as far as you would like.

This means that if you are only 80 yards when you take your unplayable, you can back yourself up to 100 or 120, where you feel confident with the club choice you have in your hand.

You can use the back on the line relief option in a bunker; however, if the ball comes out of the bunker, you will need to take a two stroke penalty. Taking a two stroke penalty to get out of a bunker is a lot, but for some people, it is necessary.

Think about being in a pot bunker like you see in a British open; there are times you may not have the power or strength to get the ball out of a lie like this.

Taking penalty relief is something that all golfers need to understand out to do. Unplayable lies are not free relief; you need to calculate whether this is one penalty stroke or two penalty strokes and then add those to your score appropriately.

How many club lengths for unplayable lie

A golfer can only take two club lengths distance for an unplayable ball. However, these two club lengths can go in any direction as long as they do not allow you to be closer to the hole.

This is not the only option you have for getting out of a difficult spot. Golfers can also take a stroke and distance relief or bring the ball back on the line between its current location and the previous stroke location.

Can you take an unplayable lie in a hazard?

Golfers cannot take an unplayable lie in a hazard. The unplayable lie rule does not overrule the hazard rule. Simple take relief from the hazard as you usually would.

Many people get confused about taking relief out of a bunker. Remember that a bunker is not a hazard, and you can always take an unplayable in a bunker.

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Hopefully, you can now understand where you can take an unplayable lie. Remember that even though you are paying for this by taking a stroke, you can never end up closer to the hole in any way. There is no relief in golf that allows you to put your original ball closer to the hole.

Instead, keep this in mind and try to think outside the box about the relief that you take. For more golf tips and reviews be sure to check out the rest of AECInfo.org.