Did you know there is a situation covered in the rules of golf in which a player could lose a ball without incurring a penalty? Normally a “lost ball” would mean that the player would have to replay a new ball from the spot in which the original ball was lost, under penalty of one stroke. So if one hits a shot (1), then loses the ball (1 penalty stroke), then hits the dropped ball (3), the stroke total from that point would be three. This is not a fun situation and can be a score-wrecker!
Abnormal Ground Conditions
A lost ball in “abnormal ground conditions” however, would mean the player could drop a ball one club length from the nearest point of relief from the abnormal condition, without penalty.
So what is an abnormal condition? An “abnormal ground condition” is any casual water, ground under repair or hole, cast or runway on the course made by a burrowing animal, a reptile or a bird.
In order for the free drop to be legal, the player(s) must be absolutely certain that the ball is in the abnormal ground condition. If there is any doubt the free drop would not apply and a likely stroke and distance penalty would be in order, unless the ball went into a hazard. In that case another set of rules regarding hazards comes into play.
In short, a player may be entitled to a free drop one club from the point in which a lost ball entered an abnormal ground condition. Such a condition might be an area of the course which is under repair like an area being re-sodded. Another example might be a flooded low point of a fairway with standing water. A third could be an area which the ball disappeared into a burrowing animal track or hole.
Once again though, the player(s) must be 100% certain the ball was lost in the abnormal conditions, and nowhere else.
Knowing the rules can save you strokes!