A huge thanks to PDGA Rules Committee chairperson Mike Krupicka for reviewing this article prior to publication.
The regulations discussed here are based the most current update of the rules that relates to legal stances. That means the 2018 rule book with updates added in January 2019.
One of the best parts of disc golf is how simple it is to get into. You have a disc and you want to get that disc into a basket in as few throws as possible. And for many players, that's all they'll ever need or want to learn.
But becoming familiar with the official rules of the sport has its advantages, too.
It makes it easier to fit in with groups of more experienced players, for one. Just like it's expected at a pick-up basketball game that you'll know to dribble when you move with the ball or stay inside the court's lines, groups of long-time disc golfers will likely assume your knowledge of certain rules.
Additionally, learning the rules will make it much easier to compete in local competitions should you choose to do so.
To help players interested in making the transition from casual to semi-casual disc golfers, we'll be doing a series of articles in the coming weeks that thoroughly explain important rules of the sport.
Once you've mastered all the info on out-of-bounds below, you can find other articles on topics like foot faults and mandatories here.
Some disc golf holes have areas that are out of bounds or, more familiarly, OB. These areas are not considered part of the course, and when you land in them, you add one extra stroke to your score.
For example, if your first throw is OB, the OB penalty would count like a second throw, and your next real throw would technically be your third.
OB can have many purposes. The most common are trying to prevent players from throwing into or near areas where incoming discs could pose a danger to others (e.g., another hole's fairway or a busy area of a public park), trying to prevent long searches for discs in overgrown areas, or simply adding difficulty to a hole.
We'll explain other aspects of this rule in four parts:
1. How to tell if you're OB
2. How to continue playing after going OB (basic)
3. How to continue playing after going OB (advanced)
4. Special cases: Islands holes and hazards
How to Tell If You're OB
Bodies of water—lakes, ponds, rivers, creeks, etc.—are usually OB.
Other than water, OB lines are often indicated by paths (paved or not), fences around other park facilities (e.g., athletic fields), stakes, and flags on courses during casual play. During tournaments or on courses with diligent caretakers, painted lines or thin rope/twine are also common.
You are OB if your entire disc is in the OB area, and the OB line itself is also OB. However, if even the tiniest part of your disc touches an in-bounds area, you are not OB.
Courses' tee signs should indicate OB areas, so make sure to pay attention to them on each hole. On courses without tee signs, sometimes the only way to know the location of OB areas is to get a local to tell you. If you're playing on a new course with a group that knows the course, make sure to ask about OB before playing.
The images and explanations below will help you better understand how to judge what's OB and what's not.
The brick area in the image above is an OB path, and the OB line starts where the brick does. The left disc is in because its edge extends into the in-bounds grass. The right disc is out because the entirety of the disc is OB.
When an OB path is dirt, gravel, or crumbling at the edges, it can be a hard call to say where the path ends and grass or dirt begins. In casual play, just use your best judgement. In a tournament, your group decides whether something is in or out. In both cases, if no one is sure, the benefit goes to the player and the shot should be counted as in.
Everything from the rope and left in the images above is OB. The left disc is in because a part of the disc is touching an in-bounds area. The middle disc is clearly out because it is completely in the OB area.
For people just learning the more official rules of disc golf, the right disc is probably the trickiest call to make because the disc is touching the OB line. Like we said earlier, all of the OB line itself is considered part of the OB area. This goes for rope, a painted line, or any other physical line no matter how thick. Therefore, if a disc is touching the OB line but not any in-bounds area beyond that line, it is out.
Here, stakes mark the OB line. From this view, everything above the stakes is OB, and everything below them is in.
When objects like stakes or flags are used to mark OB with no physical line between, it is up to a player to visualize a line between the two markers closest to the point where their disc lies. This imaginary line is featured above in blue.
The stakes themselves are part of the OB line, so, like the twine earlier, some part of the disc must be completely past them for it to be in. This also means the imaginary line starts at the sides of the stakes closest to in bounds, not in the middle or back of the stakes. The same goes for any objects used to mark OB in the same way.
Here, the edge of the water marks the OB line. The disc on the left is in because it is touching an area beyond where the water line begins.
Though its edge is out of the water, the right disc is OB because it's completely surrounded by water and no part of the disc touches or overhangs a spot before the water line starts.
Make sure not to misinterpret "water line" here. What we mean is the outer edges of this water feature where they meet the fairway or other in-bounds area.
Essentially, remember that dry doesn't equal in bounds. Just like with any other OB area, your disc must touch or overhang a point beyond the defined OB area to be in.
How to Continue Playing After Going OB (Basic)
Once your disc is determined to be OB, the most common thing to do is play from any spot along a one-meter (3.28-foot) long line perpendicular to the OB line at the point where your disc was last in bounds. The image above depicts what this could look like.
When you release your throw, no part of your body is allowed be in contact with an OB area. This is one reason for the relief rule.
The most common way to roughly measure this meter is to just walk it off in three heel-to-toe steps, like so:
Another good thing to know about the one meter relief rule is it applies whether it takes you closer to or farther away from the basket. For example, if there is a hole with OB water before the basket, and your disc was last in bounds at the edge of the water farthest from the basket, your one-meter line would extend backwards from the water:
Again, remember that you can play anywhere along the one-meter line. That means if the footing near the water is fine, you can legally throw from the very edge of the water and not back up the full meter.
How to Continue Playing After Going OB (Advanced)
Everything in the previous section tells you how you'll want to play after going OB in the majority of cases. However, a relatively recent rule change gives players another option, and it's one that's often misunderstood.
The first thing you'll need to know to understand this rule is the definition of "line of play." This is an imaginary line that extends from the basket's pole to and through the point you're playing your shot from (there is a caveat to this you'll find in the conclusion of this article). Usually, players use a marker disc after going OB to mark where their next shot will be from. The line of play extends through the center of a marker disc.
This is important to know because the rules allow any player who has gone OB to play from any in-bounds point along the line of play that is farther away from the basket than the point where they were last in bounds.
Why would you want to move farther from the basket? It could be that the spot where you entered OB has obstacles you could avoid by moving backward. For example, if you went out at a point beneath a tree, you wouldn't have to deal with its low-hanging branches anymore if you moved back:
In the image above, a player could move backward from the X as far as they wanted to give them a better angle of attack around the tree. Importantly, this wouldn't cost the player any extra stroke beyond the OB stroke they'd already taken.
Here's another visual example of how this rule could be applied:
In a case like that above, a player has a variety of position options because the line of play could pass through any point of the one-meter OB relief line. We've included three of the numerous possibilities above. When viewing this image, assume that the OB area is large enough—e.g., the end of park/course property—that a player wouldn't or couldn't move beyond it and the line of play ends where OB does.
However, a line of play can also go from in-bounds to OB to back in-bounds, like in this example:
In this case, the player's disc hit the in-bounds bank of the OB water closest to the basket but then came to rest in the water. Possible lines of play are based on the one meter relief line that extends from the side of the water where the disc was last in. Notice that the possible lines of play pass through the OB water and then back into an in-bounds area. The player can take their next shot from anywhere on those lines of play that is both in bounds and along or farther from the basket than their one meter relief line.
This sort of relief can also be taken at any time. However, if a player takes it without first having thrown OB, they sacrifice one stroke for doing so.
Finally, another option after going OB is to simply throw again from the same spot as your last throw. You take no additional penalty beyond the OB stroke for doing this. Like the rule regarding line of play, you can actually do this at any point, but it will cost one stroke unless your previous throw landed OB.
Two final things we want to mention are island holes and hazards.
Sometimes a course designer or person running a tournament may choose to limit the OB relief options players have or disallow playing from the last point a player was in bounds. A common place this occurs is on island holes.
An island hole has only a specific area around the basket designated as in bounds. See an example below:
Often, island holes have "drop zones." These are places where any player whose disc does not come to rest on the island must throw their next shot from. That means a player could cross in-bounds but come to rest OB and still go to the drop zone just the same as someone whose disc never entered the in-bounds area.
Generally, drop zones serve the purpose of allowing players to make progress toward the basket after missing an island even if playing from the last in-bounds point has been disallowed.
Like normal OB, the player is throwing their third shot from the drop zone. Normally, the player will continue throwing from the drop zone until a shot lands in bounds.
Sometimes there is no drop zone. In this case, players replay the hole from the tee with the OB penalty stroke applied to their score.
Other local rules may apply to island holes near you. Read tee signs carefully if they exist or ask locals you see on the course for specifics on any island hole you encounter.
Additionally, some non-island holes use drop zones, so, again, read tee signs or ask locals if you're having trouble understanding the correct way to complete a hole.
Occasionally, courses make areas hazards rather than OB. If a player lands in a hazard area, they receive a penalty stroke as if they had landed OB. However, they do not receive one-meter relief and cannot move back along the line of play without incurring an additional penalty stroke.
Though hazards can be anywhere, a common place to see them is on disc golf courses built on ball golf courses. Sand traps are often made into hazards rather than OB areas.
Caveats & Final Advice
Though you may roll your eyes to hear it, there are still things related to OB we didn't cover here. The biggest is probably that we didn't mention how things called "mandatories" affect the line of play. You can learn about that in our article explaining how mandatories work.
Other than that, we hope this has given you a better understanding of how out of bounds works in disc golf. While it may seem complicated in the beginning, rest assured following these rules quickly becomes second nature.
To see the other articles in this series, just click on the "rules & etiquette" tag below.
Note: We added clarification about OB water features, the ability to re-throw, and drop zones after this article's initial publication.