Skip to main content

The Official Website of the Golf Coaches Association of America



USGA Rules: Dropping zones

The GCAA is partnering with the USGA, represented by Jamie Wallace, to do a feature on the Rules of Golf focusing on common situations that players encounter. Each month, we plan to highlight a specific Rule or Rules situation that is relevant to college golfers or one that is often misunderstood. We will highlight what the Rule says and how it is applied to the situation at hand.

This month, Jamie takes a closer look at something that is found on many golf courses and in many competitions all over the country: dropping zones.

Dropping zones are not actually covered in the 34 Rules of the game, but are found under the optional Local Rules section of Appendix I. These areas are added to a golf course, typically through the use of white paint, at the discretion of the committee in charge of the golf course or the competition.

Dropping zones are usually used when it is not "feasible or practicable" to proceed in accordance with the relevant Rule. They are most commonly employed as an additional relief option for a ball hit into a water hazard or lateral water hazard (Rule 26), but can also be used as an option in the following instances:

  • Relief from immovable obstructions, such as a building (Rule 24-2b or 24-3)
  • Relief from abnormal ground conditions, such as ground under repair or casual water (Rule 25-1b or 25-1c)
  • Relief from a wrong putting green, which is when your ball lies on any putting green other than the one for the hole you are playing (Rule 25-3)
  • Ball Unplayable (Rule 28)

Let's run through some important points to note for the next time you find yourself using a dropping zone:

  • Dropping zones are usually an additional option provided to golfers, but are mandatory in certain circumstances (such as in the video above).
  • You can stand either inside or outside the dropping zone when dropping your ball.
  • When dropped, the ball must initially land within the dropping zone. The painted line is considered to be within the dropping zone, so it is OK for the ball to land on the line.
  • The most common misconception surrounding dropping zones is that your dropped ball must end up within the painted area. Most of the time, as long as your ball lands in the dropping zone and does not roll more than two club-lengths from where it landed, your ball is in play even when it is outside of the dropping zone. There are a few areas, detailed in Rule 20-2c(i-vi), where your dropped ball can end up that will require a redrop.
  • The dropped ball can roll in front of the dropping zone closer to the hole and will still be in play as long as it does not roll more than two club-lengths after striking the course and does not roll into any of the areas addressed in Rule 20-2c(i-vi).

This video link is from the playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines between Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods. Mediate and Woods were tied after 72 holes, and again found themselves tied after an 18-hole playoff the following day. At that point, they played the par-4 seventh hole as the first hole of sudden death.

Mediate's second shot from a fairway bunker ended up against a grandstand on the left side of the hole. As you hear in the video, use of the dropping zone for interference by the grandstand was mandatory, so he took a free drop.

When his drop rolled outside of the painted area, Mediate assumed he had to redrop his ball. However, the referee on the scene, current USGA Executive Director Mike Davis, stepped in to inform Mediate that his ball was dropped correctly and was in play.

Unfortunately for Mediate, he was unable to save par after taking his drop. Woods nearly holed his birdie putt and tapped in for par to win his third U.S. Open and 14th major championship title.

If you have a Rules question that comes up in a tournament this spring or that happened during a past round, feel free to send it in to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and perhaps we will address it in a future newsletter. If you have any questions about the topics discussed here, or have any other Rules of Golf questions, please feel free to contact the USGA Rules department at 908-326-1850 (available seven days a week) or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..