The Open Championship at Muirfield last week did not produce any rules controversies along the lines of Tiger Woods’ drop at the Masters. However, two rulings involving Woods and Angel Cabrera highlighted local rules which provide atypical line of play relief from obstructions.
On the 18th hole on Friday, Angel Cabrera hit his tee shot into the right rough. A television tower obstructed his line of play to the flag. After consulting with a rules official, Cabrera was permitted to drop his ball at a point where the tower did not interfere with his intended line of play.
Rule 24 provides relief from an “obstruction.” Obstructions are artificial objects such as structures, artificially-surfaced cart paths and roads, sprinkler heads, sprinkler control boxes, distance markers, stakes, and some walls and fences. (A fence or wall marking the boundary of a course is not an obstruction.) Different rules apply for “movable” and “immovable” obstructions.
Generally, relief is provided from an “immovable obstruction” if the ball lies in or on the obstruction, or if the obstruction interferes with the player’s stance or the area of his intended swing. Unless the immovable obstruction lies on the putting green, no relief is available for interference with the line of play (or line of flight). (Rule 24-2a) So, if a sprinkler control box blocks your shot to the hole, but doesn’t interfere with your stance or swing, you’re out of luck.
However, local rules may provide line of play relief from certain “temporary immovable obstructions,” such as grandstands, television towers, tents, or scoreboards. (See Appendix I, 7.) If a TIO interferes with a player’s line of play, the player may drop the ball within one club length of the nearest spot which avoids interference from the TIO and is not nearer the hole nor in a hazard or on a putting green. This rule afforded Cabrera line of play relief from the television tower.
On the third hole Sunday, Tiger Woods’ ball came to rest on the apron of the green. Two sprinkler heads lay between his ball and the hole, but did not interfere with his stance or swing. A rules official explained that Woods was allowed to drop his ball to the side of the sprinkler heads under a local rule that provides line of play relief if the sprinkler head lies within two club lengths of the green and the ball lies within two club lengths of the sprinkler head. (See Appendix I, 6.)
Most courses have adopted a local rule providing relief from sprinkler heads near putting greens. Keep in mind, however, that this is an exception to the general rule precluding line of play relief from obstructions, and only applies under the specified conditions. Unless you make it to a professional tour, you’re not likely to encounter many TIOS.
Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions. Rules questions may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.