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Rules of Golf

Rules of Golf review: What the heck is internal out of bounds?

July 18, 2023

David Cannon

The above photo is an aerial view of Royal Liverpool Golf Club's first hole, which will play as the third for this week's British Open. As you study the photo, take note that the property on the left behind the grass wall is the driving range. Although the range (which is used as a spectator village during the Open) is on an interior part of the course with holes surrounding it, any shot that lands in it is considered out of bounds. Same for shots that find that area for golfers playing the par-5 18th hole during the championship. The boundary line will be "cop" mounds supported by rough and topped by white OB stakes with thin, tightly mown turf to help delineate the painted line.

This is a classic example of internal out of bounds, an area of the course where the committee decides it's unfair or unsafe—or in the case of Liverpool, both—to play from. You can see here that a golfer playing this hole could take a much more direct path to the green without Model Local Rule A-4, and in doing so, could endanger someone practicing on the range—or for the Open spectators watching play.

Below is a view of the internal out of bounds area from 2014 (18th hole on the left; third hole top right). The IOOB is not expected to pinch in as far on the right side of the 18th hole this year.

Internal out of bounds will undoubtedly be a much-discussed topic during Open Championship week as the concept is controversial among traditionalists. The safety reasons are understandable, but its placement goes against one of the core principles in golf: Play the ball as it lies. A player’s ball could settle into a perfectly reasonable spot with a clear shot to the green, only to be inches past the boundary and result in one of golf’s most severe penalties.

In defense of the R&A and Royal Liverpool, many courses or tournaments employ internal out of bounds as a way to get you to play the hole as it was intended. At the PGA Championship in May at Oak Hill, the fairway on the seventh hole was considered an IOOB area for golfers on the sixth hole. Fair or not, if you hit a ball into an IOOB, it is no different than if you jacked one into the parking lot. Your only option is to take a stroke-and-distance penalty and play from where you just hit.

It's important to understand, however, that if your ball crosses through or over an area marked as an IOOB and ends up back on the same part of course, there is no penalty. A golf club or tournament committee cannot use this Local Rule for that purpose.

Is it the British Open or the Open Championship? The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilizes both names in its coverage.