Unplayable lie is one of the most misused, confused or violated golf rules, especially among amateur golfers. Unplayable lies are covered in rule 28 in the official rulebook, which clearly explains everything that golfers ought to know.

 

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Photo by Andrea Pacelli

Golf Rules Unplayable Lie: Rule 28 
If you find your ball in a position in which there’s no way you could make a swing or play that ball out of there, then you can apply Rule 28. This rule states that a player may adjudge any ball unplayable, anywhere on the course other than a water hazard, and for any reason. The player is actually solely responsible for making the decision as to whether or not his ball is unplayable. So you’re entitled to claim unplayable lie at any point where you feel like you cannot make a swing or advance the ball. Nonetheless, while this allows you to take relief from your troubling situation, you’ll incur a one-stroke penalty.

Golf Rules Unplayable Lie: What Are Your Options? 
There are three options after deciding to use the unplayable lie rule.

1. You could take your drop and play the ball as nearly as possible to the position from which you played the last stroke. So, for instance, if you hit your last shot from the teeing ground, you could play the ball from anywhere within the teeing ground. Similarly, if you play your third stroke from the fairway into a bush or bunker and decide you cannot play it, you could go back and play the ball at the position from which you played last from on the fairway, and you would then be playing your fifth stroke.

2. Drop the ball and play behind the spot where your ball came to rest. The spot on which you’re going to drop the ball must be along an extension of a line between the flagstick (hole) and the point where your ball originally lay. You can drop the ball at your favored distance or look for a good spot anywhere on that line as there’s no limit as to how far back on that line a ball can be dropped.

3. The third option is dropping the ball within 2 clublengths from the spot where the ball sits, but no closer to the hole. If you deem the ball unplayable while it’s in a bunker, then you must drop the ball within the bunker if you’re going back on an extension of a line from the hole or using the 2 clublengths. 
Remember you also get to clean your ball when using this rule, or you could substitute another golf ball if you so wish.