In many years of playing golf, I’ve yet to discover any relief from the biggest obstruction I face on the course: my brain. However, Rule 24 does provide relief from “movable obstructions” and “immovable obstructions.” Generally, an obstruction is anything artificial, such as structures, artificially-surfaced cart paths and roads, sprinkler heads, sprinkler control boxes, distance markers, stakes, and some walls and fences. However, any part of an obstruction that is out of bounds; any wall, fence or marker defining out of bounds; or any construction that is deemed to be an “integral part of the course” (most famously the road bordering the 17th hole at St. Andrews) is not an obstruction, and no relief is available under Rule 24.
A “movable obstruction” is any obstruction that may be moved without unreasonable effort and without unduly delaying play or causing damage. If a ball lies in or on the obstruction, the player may lift the ball, remove the obstruction, and drop (or place if on the putting green) the ball as near as possible to the spot directly under the place the ball lay, but not nearer the hole. If the ball does not lie in or on the obstruction, the obstruction may be removed. (Rule 24-1)
Except when the ball lies in a water hazard, 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 that sprinkler control box blocks your shot to the hole, but doesn’t interfere with your stance or swing, you’re out of luck. (Local rules may provide line of play relief from certain “temporary immovable obstructions,” such as grandstands, but not from common obstructions such as sprinkler control boxes.)
To take relief, the player must first determine “the nearest point of relief ” (the nearest spot which provides relief from the obstruction and is not (a) closer to the hole, or (b) in a hazard or on a putting green) and then drop the ball within one club length of that point. If the ball is in a bunker, the ball must be dropped in the bunker (or, under penalty of one stroke, behind the bunker). If the ball lies on the putting green, the player may place the ball at the nearest point of relief, which may be off the green. (Rule 24-2b)
Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules
workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions.
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