What Does “Rolling It in the Fairway” Mean?

If you play country club golf with a group of guys you have heard, “we are rolling it in the fairway.” If you are new to country club golf or you haven’t played a lot of money game golf, you may be lost. It sounds like you can roll the ball into a better lie and then hit it on the approach shot, right? Well, this is not exactly the case. Here is what “rolling it in the fairway” means at your country club:

“Rolling it in the fairway” means lift, clean and place, no closer to the hole, at your discretion. During these Friday afternoon money games and weekend best ball games, there is very little oversight when it comes to the rules of golf. You will see people “fluffing” it in the rough, kicking a ball away from a tree root or marking their ball with the coin in front of the ball instead of behind it. No, you don’t have to just “roll” the ball with your club face in an attempt to get a better lie and clean it. Some think “rolling it in the fairway” means you cannot put your hands on the ball. Not true.

If you are technical about it, “rolling in the fairway” should be lift, clean and place within two feet of where the ball comes to rest. Some would argue it is a club length or two club lengths, but, once again, that is to the discretion of the group. If you are new to a Friday afternoon group or money game, I would suggest being very conservative. You can lift, clean and place it within a foot of where your ball came to rest.

I have heard people say think about a playing card. If you place the ball within one playing card of where it came to rest, no closer to the hole, no one is going to call you out.

Let’s discuss why you would be able to “roll it in your own fairway”. There are many country clubs and golf courses in which the fairways are not exactly grown out with grass year round. I am a member of a club in which the fairways can be very sparse all the way until Memorial Day weekend. Our Thursday night league starts on April 1st so for about the first four to six weeks of league night, we play “life, clean and place” in your own fairway.

It is also common to “roll it in the fairway” after rain. Golf balls are going to get extremely dirty and muddy when they strike the ground after the tee shot. Unless you are an accomplished golfer, hitting a muddy ball into a green is not easy. You may get lucky and pure that one out of 100 and it is a muddy ball that takes three different flight paths.

Only in the Fairway?

Many will ask, is rolling it in the fairway only the fairway? The answer is no. You can also roll it on the fringe next to the green. This is a very disputed topic as amateur golfers will be rolling it or lift, cleaning and placing it in the fairway then they will have a mud ball right next to the green, on the fringe, and they won’t know if they have to putt or chip with mud on the ball or not. When your group is “rolling it in the fairway” you can clean your ball and replace it on the fringe.

There is also great debate about sprinkler heads and obstructions around the green. If you hit your second shot that lands five feet off the green and it is directly behind a sprinkler head, can you move it? Under “rolling it in the fairway” conditions, you can move the ball. Always be aware of the etiquette of the group. You do not want to move a ball two club lengths to the left to be left with a putt you drain for a birdie net eagle. Remember, golf is a game of integrity.

You cannot touch your ball or move it if you have hit it:

  • in the rough
  • in the pinestraw near a group of trees
  • against a tree or on a root
  • on mulch
  • in the bunker
  • on any type of waste area or sand
  • semi submerged in water

Obviously, if your ball comes to rest near or on a man made structure (cart path, sprinkler head, out of bounds stake, etc) you get a free drop within two club lengths of where your ball came to rest.

The Root Rule

There are many people that have a “root rule” to save golfers from injuring their wrist. I have played at many country clubs in Houston, Texas in which the “root rule” is in full effect. In North Carolina and South Carolina you will hear of this rule as well. The “root rule” is interpreted that you can move a ball one club length if a root is going to affect your swing. This can be in the backswing, downswing or followthrough. You will often see PGA Tour players test the ground in mulch areas to see if there are any roots. Here is a video of Rory hitting a root and injuring his wrist: