Round 2 – Dealing with Immovable Objects

Lesson
Materials

 

THE PRACTICE AREA

In this round of the Short Course, we are going to focus on taking relief from immovable objects and situations that might interfere with your play during a round – the four abnormal course conditions, dangerous animal conditions, wrong greens and embedded balls. These are all situations the Rules do not consider part of the challenge of playing the game, but they also can’t be readily moved so generally you are allowed to move the ball away from the interference. Each type of situation is treated a little differently, so let’s take a look at the different types of interfering situations and their relief procedures.

There are three types of immovable objects and conditions that use the same reference point for relief – abnormal course conditions, dangerous animal conditions and wrong greens. Let’s first take a look at exactly what these conditions are, and then we’ll look at how to take relief from them.

Abnormal Course Conditions

The term abnormal course condition is an umbrella term that includes four different situations: animal holes, ground under repair, immovable obstructions and temporary water.

  • Animal Holes – Animal holes are exactly what they sound like – any hole dug in the ground by an animal, but excluding animals otherwise defined as loose impediments (such as worms and insects). The term animal hole also includes the loose material dug out of the hole, any worn-down track or trail leading into the hole, and any area on the ground that has been disturbed as a result of the animal digging underground.
  • Ground Under Repair – Ground under repair is either defined as ground under repair by the Committee (usually by painted lines or stakes) or is treated as ground under repair by default. In addition to all the ground inside the defined edge, ground under repair also includes any growing or attached natural object rooted in the area, such as a tree or bush, even if it extends outside of the defined area. There are three situations treated as ground under repair by default: 1) any hole made by the Committee or maintenance staff in setting up or maintaining the course (not including aeration holes), 2) material piled for later removal (such as grass clippings), and 3) any animal habitat that might be damaged by the player’s stance or stroke (other than animals otherwise defined as loose impediments).
  • Immovable Obstructions – Immovable obstructions are artificial objects that cannot be moved without unreasonable effort or damaging the course. These include cart paths, buildings, fences that do not define boundaries, and sprinkler heads. If an object that would otherwise be an obstruction defines the course boundary, then it is a boundary object and not an immovable obstruction (and no free relief is available). The Committee may also change the status of an immovable obstruction by defining it as an integral object so that free relief is not allowed.
  • Temporary Water – Previously known as casual water, temporary water is any temporary accumulation of water outside a penalty area that remains visible on the surface of the ground before or after the player’s stance is taken. Wet, muddy or soft ground is not temporary water just because water appears briefly when stepping on the ground. A fun phrase that has traveled through the officiating ranks is, “It’s the stance – not the dance.” There are also a few special cases – dew and frost are not temporary water, snow and natural ice on the ground can be temporary water or loose impediments, and manufactured ice is not temporary water (it is an obstruction).

Free relief is allowed from abnormal course conditions when they interfere with your ball, stance or area of intended swing. If your ball lies on the putting green only, free relief is allowed for interference on your line of play as well.

Dangerous Animal Conditions

A dangerous animal condition is when there is a dangerous animal so close to your ball that the animal could cause you serious harm if you had to play the ball as it lies. Dangerous animals include venomous snakes, stinging bees, alligators, fire ants and bears. A dangerous course condition, like poison ivy or cacti, is not a dangerous animal condition and free relief is not allowed.

Wrong Green

A wrong green is any green on the course other than the putting green for the hole being played. This includes practice greens for putting or chipping, the putting greens for holes not being played, or even the original putting green of a hole if that hole is using a temporary green.

You must take free relief when your ball touches a wrong green or if the wrong green interferes with your area of intended stance or swing.

The Nearest Point of Complete Relief

All three of these conditions we just covered (the four abnormal course conditions plus dangerous animal conditions and wrong greens) use the same reference point for taking free relief – the nearest point of complete relief.

The nearest point of complete relief is exactly what it sounds like. It is the point closest to the where the ball actually lies that is not nearer the hole (and in the correct area of the course) that will provide complete relief from the interfering condition for the stroke you would have used if the condition did not exist.

To estimate this point, you need to figure out that stroke, including club selection, stance, swing and line of play, that would have been used to play the ball from that original spot. It is not required to physically simulate that stroke, but it is a good practice to do so to accurately determine the reference point.

 

Basic Relief

When you have interference from any of these three conditions, the basic relief procedure revolves around the nearest point of complete relief. There are some small differences depending on which area of the course the ball lies in and for which condition relief is being taken.

  • When the ball lies in the general area, you drop and play a ball within one club-length of the nearest point of complete relief in the general area and no nearer the hole.
  • When the ball lies in the bunker, the dropped ball must land in and remain in the bunker, no nearer the hole.
  • When the ball lies on the putting green, you place a ball at the nearest point of complete relief which may be on the putting green or in the general area (off the putting green) and no nearer the hole. But in taking relief for a wrong green, the ball is dropped within one club-length of the nearest point of complete relief even if the ball was on the putting green.
  • Free relief may be taken for a dangerous animal condition when the ball lies in a penalty area, but the nearest point of complete relief and the relief area must also be in the penalty area.

Special Situations

The basic relief procedures above will cover the majority of relief situations you encounter on the course, but there are a handful of scenarios that require special treatment. The following do not apply to relief from wrong greens.

Extra Relief Option When Complete Relief is Not Available

Since bunkers and putting greens are generally more confined areas of the course, sometimes complete relief no nearer the hole is not possible. When this happens, rather than losing the option to take free relief, you have the option to utilize a reference point called the Point of Maximum Available Relief.

The Point of Maximum of Available Relief is the spot nearest to where your ball lies and no nearer the hole that has the least amount of interference from the condition. To determine this point, just like the nearest point of complete relief, you need to figure out what stance, swing and line of play you would have used if the condition did not exist and you had to play the ball as it lies. This point may be where the ball is out of the condition but your stance is still in it, or vice versa. On the putting green, this point might be where you have the least amount of temporary water to putt through.

To take relief using the point of maximum available relief in a bunker, you drop and play a ball from within one club-length that point and no nearer the hole. On the putting green, you place a ball at the point of maximum available relief, which may be on the putting green or in the general area.

Penalty Relief Option in Bunkers

If you have interference in a bunker, you also have a penalty relief option that gets you out of the bunker. You can use this option even if complete relief is available inside the bunker.

This option uses the back-on-the-line relief procedure so that you drop the ball within one club-length of a selected point on a straight line from the hole through where the ball lay in the bunker. While this does get you out of the bunker, it will cost you one penalty stroke to do so.

Ball Not Found but Known or Virtually Certain to Be In a Condition

If you have not found your ball but it is known or virtually certain (meaning 95% certain or higher) that the ball is in an abnormal course condition, whether it be a large puddle, a deep animal hole, or a large area of ground under repair, you are allowed to proceed under stroke and distance or you can take free relief.

To take free relief, you use the same procedures as you would to take basic relief but with one small change: treat the point where the ball last crossed the edge of the condition as the spot where the ball lies and then determine your nearest point of complete relief from there.

Embedded Ball

An embedded ball is a slightly different situation but relief is still taken by moving the ball away from the interference.

You get to take free relief for an embedded ball anywhere in the general area, except in sand in an area that is not cut to fairway height or less. In order to be embedded:

  • Your ball must be in its own pitch-mark from the previous stroke, and
  • At least part of your ball must be below the level of the ground (even if leaves or other material intervene between the ball itself and the soil).

To take relief, you drop and play a ball within one club-length of and no nearer the hole than the spot right behind where the ball is embedded.

When Relief Is Not Allowed

There are some situations when you are not allowed to take relief even though you may have interference from the condition or object.

Despite having interference, if something other than the free relief condition makes playing the ball clearly unreasonable, then free relief is not allowed. An example would be when your ball is deeply nestled in tree roots, but your stance for the stroke is on a cart path.

If interference from an abnormal course condition only occurs through use of a clearly unreasonable stance, swing or direction of play, you are also not allowed free relief. This means that you cannot just turn around and play backwards or widen your stance in order to gain interference from a condition to get free relief (unless doing so is reasonable given the circumstances).

You are also not allowed free relief, with the exception of a dangerous animal condition, when your ball lies in a penalty area. In that case, your only options are to play the ball as it lies or take penalty area relief.

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of how to deal with immovable objects and conditions on the golf course! If you are interested in reading the text of the relevant Rules, it can be found mostly in Rule 16 and also in Rule 13.1f for Wrong Greens. And as always, if you have any questions, you can reach us directly at [email protected] or 908-326-1850.

 

Thoughts on the Round

 

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