If you substitute a ball when you are not allowed to, or drop or place a ball in the wrong place or otherwise not in accordance with the Rules, and you haven’t played it yet, you are allowed to lift it without penalty and correct your mistake. This is the Rule that officials call the Great Eraser Rule!
For example, if you take relief from a lateral water hazard and drop a ball within three club-lengths of where it last crossed the hazard margin (instead of within two club-lengths), you have dropped in a wrong place. If, before you play a stroke at that ball, you realize what you have done, you may lift the ball and drop in the correct place without penalty – you just “erase” your mistake.
Or, take the case of your ball lying on a cart path, and you decide to take relief. After you have determined where to drop the ball, you mistakenly drop a ball other than the original. You have substituted a new ball when you are not allowed to do so. If you notice it before you make a stroke at it, you may pick it up under the Eraser Rule and drop the original ball as required, and there is no penalty.
Many golfers like to use a “water ball” when they have a hard shot over water, or a “putting” ball because they believe that a brand new ball is going to roll truer on the green. The Rules say that you must use the ball that you play from the tee throughout the entire hole, unless it becomes lost, is hit out of bounds or you substitute another ball under a Rule. There is no Rule that allows you to substitute a ball so that you don’t lose a brand new ball in the water, or to substitute a new ball on the putting green just because you believe it will putt better. You can do it, but it will cost you a two stroke penalty. So, if you have substituted a new ball on the putting green, and someone lets you know you are not allowed to do that, as long as you haven’t hit it, you may lift it and replace the original ball back in the correct spot without penalty. The player who lifted his ball in play in the fairway and replaced it with a “water ball” is not quite so lucky. As long as he hasn’t hit the “water ball,” under the Eraser Rule he can replace the original ball and avoid that penalty. However, he will still receive a one stroke penalty for lifting his ball in play when he had no right to do so.
If you drop a ball when you should have placed it, or placed a ball when you should have dropped it, under this handy little Rule, you may lift the ball and correct your error without a penalty. If you mistakenly drop a ball a third time, instead of placing it on the spot where it hit the ground on the second drop, you can “erase” that under this Rule also.
You won’t find this helpful Rule in the Rules of Golf listed as the Great Eraser Rule. It’s just hiding out unobtrusively under Rule 20, Clause 6. This is one of those little gems that good golfers should know to help them get out of trouble. Not all the Rules of Golf are bad!
Jeanne Myers, Assistant Director – Rules & Competitions
Golf Association of Michigan