We had two separate players on different teams report that their ball came to rest under the limbs of a dead tree branch on hole 17 this past week. Both players reported that the main branch of the limb was still up in the tree but the “crown” of the branch had fallen into the rough and was in bounds and their ball had come to rest under this part of the dead tree branches. A similar image as described by both players is shown below. It’s not known if the same tree applied to both players, but one player indicated the limb was still attached to the tree, the other player said the limb was completely severed from the tree but the main branch was still resting in the tree…. One player took a penalty and line of flight back to play the next shot, the other player was given a free drop by his opponent to nearest point of relief…. What’s the correct ruling?
A couple of rules questions came up in last Thursday’s play, here’s what was described:
A drive off the tee resulted in the ball coming to rest next to the sprinkler system control box. In addition, the ground around the control box had settled resulted in a crevice that the ball had fallen into. The player polled the opponents but none in the group were confident on how to proceed so the ball was played as it lied.
A poor drive from the tee box resulted in the ball coming to rest next to the shed on the left hand side of the water hazard. The player wasn’t sure how to proceed, so took line of flight relief back and a penalty stroke.
The rules of golf (USGA Rule 24) have provisions for both moveable (USGA Rule 24-1) and immoveable (USGA Rule 24-2) objects (and abnormal ground conditions – USGA Rule 25) when the lie of the ball, the stance, or the swing interferes with an object(s):
- Moveable objects such as leaves, beverage containers, twigs etc…. are allowed to be moved, without penalty.
- For immoveable objects, cart paths, sprinkler heads, buildings, direction posts, ball washers, sprinkler control boxes, etc… the nearest point of relief should be determined. The player is then allowed the option of a free drop within one club length not nearer the hole without penalty. A player can also choose to declare an “unplayable” ball and incur a one stroke penalty.
What is “nearest point of relief”? (See video: http://usga-rules.com/NPR/) The player should consider the normal stance and swing path that would be used if the immoveable object wasn’t present and then look at taking that position left, right, or in back of the original ball position. Typically, one of these positions will be closer to the obstruction than the other two and as such would be the only position allowed to take relief. Once this nearest point of relief is determined, the ball must be dropped within one club length not nearer the hole (any club in the bag may be used).
Note: “nearest point of relief” does not take into consideration the path of the next shot or any remaining obstacles in that path. The player is entitled to relief from the obstacle so a swing may be made, not necessarily relief from the flight path the ball will take once relief is obtained (although that may or may not be the result). It’s also good to note that relief is the player’s option for that reason…. Nearest point of relief may result in a poorer position or ball flight to attempt the next shot.
Abnormal ground conditions include: casual water, ground under repair, a hole or crevice, an animal burrow, or even animal dung such as from a goose. Nearest point of relief without penalty may be taken.
So for either example cited, the players were entitled to nearest point of relief without penalty and our Thursday Night League would play according to this USGA rule. Note that playing the ball back on line of flight back with a penalty is not allowed by USGA or our league. In the case of the shed example, the nearest point of relief may still mean the shed is between the dropped ball and the green, but with the relief given, the player can now take a full swing without interference. The fundamental lesson is that you get relief from your swing, not your expected ball flight path to the green. Natural obstructions such as trees or bushes do not count toward immovable obstructions, so they may be your nearest point of relief. Also, once the nearest point of relief is established, you are still entitled to a drop of one club length from that spot, not nearer the hole from that point of relief. You do not have to take relief if you are going to end up in a worse situation.
The rules have additional provisions if the immoveable object occurs on the green, in a bunker, or in a water hazard, but more on those at another time.
[do_widget “Current Matchups” ]
The game of golf inevitably involves situations that occur during play that result in questions about how to properly proceed according to the rules of golf and in some cases either a local rule of the golf course or a league rule. League rules and local rules have preference over USGA rules. But as these situations occur, we hope our league members will raise these situations for further review. As they are, the situation will be reviewed for conformance to USGA, discussed with the course for local rule review, and that information will be submitted to the league officers for review and direction on how the league will proceed. It will then be communicated to the league by the league secretary or through the website or other means. The league officers have the final say on how these situations will be resolved.