You’ve probably seen the commercial where a player kicks his ball away from a rock and is shocked when Phil Mickelson appears and cites Rule 13-1: “the ball must be played as it lies.” One exception to that cardinal rule applies when your ball lies in an “abnormal ground condition,” or an abnormal ground condition interferes with your stance or swing. There are three categories of abnormal ground conditions: casual water, ground under repair, and holes or other aberrations made by burrowing animals, reptiles, or birds.
You may take relief from an abnormal ground condition by dropping your ball within one club-length of the “nearest point of relief.” (On the green, you must place the ball.) This is the closest spot that affords relief from the condition and is not nearer the hole. Keep in mind that you are not entitled to “line of play” relief – only stance and swing relief – unless your ball lies on the putting green and casual water interferes with your line of putt. In that case, the nearest point of relief may be off the green.
Casual water is a temporary accumulation of water outside of a water hazard. If you take your stance and water wells up around your shoes, you are in casual water. If your ball lies in casual water in a bunker, you must drop the ball in the bunker. If the bunker is completely covered by water, you must either drop the ball at a spot which provides the most relief (shallowest area) or, at the cost of a penalty stroke, drop the ball behind the bunker.
Ground under repair is any part of the course designated as such by the course or tournament committee, usually by white lines or stakes. A hole made by a greenkeeper constitutes ground under repair even if not marked. Similarly, grass clippings or branches that are piled for removal constitute ground under repair, but such material that has been abandoned does not. For example, piles of grass clippings in wooded areas are not ground under repair. However, such material may be removed by the player as a loose impediment.
The rules of golf are stringent. If your ball ends up in a rut made by a tractor or a crack in the ground during hot, dry weather, it might be reasonable to assume you are entitled to relief. However, unless the area has been marked as ground under repair, the rules do not afford you that option. While this might seem to defy common sense, allowing players broad discretion to designate areas as ground under repair would undercut uniformity. Unfortunately, not all courses are diligent about marking ground under repair.
Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions. Rules inquiries may be directed to RossGolf@Charter.net.