What is the embedded ball rule in golf, and what are the options for relief?
Golf Culture

What is the embedded ball rule in golf, and what are the options for relief?


When playing golf, golfers can sometimes find themselves playing in wet or soggy conditions. That means golf balls, which generate thousands of RPMs of spin on each shot, and pierce the ground when the land and become an embedded ball in the ground.

Of course, hitting a golf shot with an embedded ball sounds downright impossible. That why plugged lies in bunkers, better known as fried eggs, are so hard to decipher. However, the Rules of Golf has this situation covered with the embedded ball rule.

What is the embedded ball rule?

Under the embedded ball rule, which is Rule 16.3 of the Rules of Golf, golfers are entitled to free relief from a situation in which their ball becomes embedded in the general area (also known as "through the green"), which includes everywhere on the course that's not teeing ground, putting surfaces, bunkers and hazards.

A ball is considered embedded if it sits in its own pitch mark made as a result of the player’s previous stroke and part of the ball is below the level of the ground. The ball does not have to be sitting directly on the soil underneath it and can be propped up by grass.

What relief is allowed under the embedded ball rule?

A player can remove their ball from the embedded lie, clean it, identify the nearest point of relief within one club length of the embedded lie (no nearer the hole) and drop to a new lie.

Prior to the current edition of the Rules of Golf that first went into effect in 2019, golfers were only able to take relief from an embedded ball in closely-mowed areas of the course, meaning fairways and the surrounds of greens. However, that is no longer true, and an embedded ball in pretty much any kind of grass (outside of a penalty area or hazard) entitles a golfer to free relief.

Thanks to a long-standing local rule on the PGA Tour and other pro tours, pros have been able to take advantage of embedded-ball relief through the green/in the general area.

While recreational golfers typically administer this rule themselves, or with their playing partners, pros typically wait for a rules official to adjudicate the situation or rely on a competitor in their group to confirm the appropriate application of the Rules of Golf.

About the author

Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for nearly 20 years. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He is currently a +2.6 USGA handicap, and he has covered dozens of major championships and professional golf tournaments. He likes writing about golf and making it more accessible by answering the complex questions fans have about the pro game or who want to understand how to play golf better.

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