The Perfect Free Drop

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

4th hole fairway at Southbroom (Photographs by Steve Shewell - GolfVistaSA)

If you are getting tired with chipping off the lounge carpet into a laundry basket, or practising your putting stroke with the toe of your putter against the skirting board in the bedroom, now is probably as good a time as any to spend your days in house arrest boning up on the rules of golf.

Most golfers have had a skirmish or two with the rules at one time or another and historically one of the more frequently violated rules has been the drop.

The drop in its various forms - free, under penalty, under duress, unseen by anyone else! etc. has a common root in the need for the player to get out of trouble of one sort or another.

Using a real hole as an example, the third at Southbroom Golf Club in KwaZulu-Natal is a teasing par 4, framed by out of bounds on the right and a band of dense bush on the left.

Slicers rule!... which often leads to players teeing off and aiming a little further left than they should.

Enter the pull (that sneaky cousin of the slice) and you are straight into “mamba country”!

4th hole approach to the green at Southbroom

Relax… all is not lost as you can drop out, and simple though this might sound, it is also where the fun starts.

While we are on the subject, ‘huddle’ with your mates at the bar, when we are all released from lockdown, and see if you can sort out the good from the bad and the ugly in the following little selection of possible historical drop options, which twere in force prior to the rules’ changes in 2019.

Option 1 - Assume a point where the ball entered the bush (it is worth noting at this point that Southbroom has very little rough in the normal sense – it is either the fairway or the bush!) and drop out onto the edge of the fairway.

Option 2a - Make a valiant effort to find the ball and if you cannot, never mind just drop out at the point where the ball was assumed to have entered the bush.

Option 2b - Do the right thing and even though you haven’t actually found any ball, involve your playing partners (and any passers-by) in the ‘where it might be’ process and take a committee decision to determine where the ball might have entered the bush, before dropping another ball into play as in option 2a.

Option 3 - Have a stroke of real fortune and actually find your original ball (not the best of any provisional shots that you may have hit) and then take a succession of two club length drops to get the ball to the edge of the fairway and then resume play with your 7th, 8th or 9th stroke depending on how far in the bush you were.

Option 4 - Find your own ball and bring it out to the edge of the bush and with your two club lengths drop the ball onto the fairway under penalty of one shot.

Option 5 - Find any ball and then repeat either option 1 or 3.

Option 6 - Keep the bush between the ball and the target and go back as far as you like, until you find a decent (or dry) piece of ground to drop the ball onto and then play from there.

A cautionary note with this option, as on this particular hole you will probably be dropping on the southernmost tip of Zanzibar.

Option 7 - Take a stroke and distance penalty and the long walk back to the tee and start all over again.

If you think that this is tongue in cheek you are right, rather like the chap who liked to carry a catapult to use for the really long drops - when no one was looking!

A relatively simple examination of a rulebook will reveal that the rules are in place largely to assist and guide the player and not to provoke or unfairly penalise.

The drop, as an option, is not some sort of golfing ‘twilight zone’, but has been ‘designed’ to help the player out (of trouble!) and not burden him or her with some undue penalty, but it is interesting how many golfers do not understand the basic principles and requirements behind the only golfing stroke where you get to use your hands.

The modified rules issued in 2019 have now simplified the rule. This applies particularly where it concerns the stroke and distance penalty and the requirement to go back to where the lost ball was originally hit from, which was very time consuming.

The rules now state that instead of the player returning to the spot of the previous shot, in the event of a lost ball or one hit out of bounds, the player can take a drop in the nearest spot of the fairway (within two club-lengths of the edge of the fairway), no nearer the hole than where the ball crossed the OB line, with a two-stroke penalty.

You will notice that this change is effectively in line with point 2a above, all of which proves that finally common sense rules, even if with golf it might be a little slower in coming around!

On a lighter note - there are some unofficial drop options that can be harmless, fun and quite creative as the following story might illustrate.

When I was based at Southbroom in the 1980’s, I used to have a regular game with a fellow professional James Coetzee, who was at the time the resident pro at the now closed St Michaels Sand’s layout and then subsequently at Margate GC.

Our knockabout game was with two amateurs who could ‘get it round’ (they were really more interested in the drinks and dominoes that inevitably followed the game), but who were, in addition to their normal handicap allocation, allowed two free throws (long drops really!) at any time during the game.

The secret with both of these options was to use them at the most appropriate moment (surprise being an essential ingredient) and not waste them by chasing good after bad, especially if a hole was already lost.

On the day in question, we arrived at Southbroom’s sixth hole (then a par 4 and the course's stroke 1) all square. I hit an adequate tee shot down the right into a howling Northeaster. My partner hit his tee shot on the head and straight into a small ditch near the women’s tee.

James’ partner hit his tee shot with a shank slice (this shot took him years to perfect!) straight out of bounds and then James striped one 250 metres up the centre right of the fairway.

My partner then hacked, cursed and muttered his way up the fairway, until he was about level (after 4 shots) with James’ tee shot.

6th hole at Southbroom

It was at this point that he announced he was going to use his free throw. He was still determined in this course of action, despite of all the intelligent and reasonable argument that I could muster as to why he should not waste a free throw. However, in the face of all of my most eloquently delivered logic, he remained unmoved, unlike our opponents, when my partner stepped forward and picked up James’ perfect tee shot and threw it out of bounds.

Needless to say the rules were tweaked to block this type of free throw in the future, but the element of surprise was sufficient to put James off his normally reliable game and we sneaked home a couple up and … my partner never even used his free drop!

GolfVistaSA: April 2020 – The Perfect Free Drop.

John Cockayne – The Wordsmith Copywriting Services. Mobile: +27 (0) 73 8967931 | Email:

The contents, ideas and concepts expressed in this document are the sole property and copyright of the author and may not be copied, used, communicated to any third party in any way or manner and or activated without the express written approval of John Cockayne.

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