Golf Course Architecture - Issue 70, October 2022

OUT OF BOUNDS Going out of bounds is, pretty much, the worst thing in golf. Compared to OB, losing a ball in a pond, gorse bush or patch of thick rough is kids’ stuff. But the white stakes that mark out of bounds lines are the golfer’s most hated enemy. Why should this be? There is no fundamental reason why going out of bounds is worse than any other hazard; indeed, depending on what is to be found the other side of the OB line, it is often possible at least to retrieve the ball, something which is usually impossible from a water hazard and frequently also the case from vegetation like gorse, heather or rough. No, the issue is the penalty for going out of bounds, the infamous stroke and distance. Effectively stroke and distance is a two-shot penalty, because it puts you back where you started at a cost of one more stroke. By contrast, tangle with other hazards and it is usually possible to drop fairly close to where the ball ended up: large water hazards can sometimes require going back a long way to find a drop zone, but they are the exception to this rule. Single penalty shots are annoying, but a shot is a shot – it only requires one piece of skill (or a failing on the part of one’s opponent) possibly to sneak a half on the hole. In medal play, losing a stroke is annoying, but rarely fatal. Two strokes, though, is something different: in a match, going OB means an almost certain loss of a hole, and in medal, giving up two shots is a more signficant hill to climb if one is to get the round back on track. Stroke and distance as a penalty for a lost ball first appeared in the St Andrews Rules in 1754. The rule, however, changed many times over the next two centuries, until, finally, in 1952, the R&A settled on stroke and distance as the penalty for hitting off the golf course (the USGA experimented with distance only in the early 1960s, but it didn’t last); the situation has remained the same ever since. But it is important to note that, when older courses were built, the penalty for going out of bounds was not necessarily quite as severe as it is today. Back in the day, the use of out of bounds as a strategic hazard was, if not exactly commonplace, far from unknown. Some of golf ’s most famous holes incorporate out of bounds lines, and some even present golfers with a strategic dilemma: the closer you can place your ball to the OB, the better the line for the next shot will be. Think, very obviously, of the Road hole at St Andrews. Famously fearsome for its blind drive over the old railway sheds and the former stationmaster’s garden (now part of the Old Course Hotel) and for the brutally difficult green, perched above the road and protected by a deep pot bunker, there Out of bounds on the right of the fourteenth at Royal St Georges arguably cost Dustin Johnson the 2011 Open 46