Rules of Golf - Nearest, not Nicest, Point of Relief
I hope you were able to enjoy the Masters last week! The amazing round by Jordan Spieth along with the great play by Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and others sure made Sunday exciting. There were very few interesting rulings that took place at the Masters so I decided to write about a situation that we all experience from time to time.
You do not have to play golf very long until you will find your ball in a position where you have interference from an object that is not natural. Many times these objects can be moved out of your way, but sometimes the object is fixed, or immovable, and you have an option on whether to play your ball as it lies or take relief. Under the Rules, these objects are called “obstructions.”
Obstructions are artificial objects and their status can be movable or immovable. You may move movable obstructions anywhere on the course including bunkers and water hazards. Examples of movable obstructions are a candy bar wrapper, soda can, cigarette butt, and bench assuming that is it not secured and can be easily moved.
Examples of immovable obstructions are cart paths, sprinkler heads, irrigation boxes, and permanent signage. As long as the player’s ball does not lie in a water hazard, the player is entitled to free relief from immovable obstructions if there is interference from the player’s stance, lie of ball, or area of intended swing. Please notice that line of flight is NOT listed. You may see pros on TV getting relief for line of play sometimes, but that is for temporary obstructions like the gallery stands, not regular obstructions we face on the course.
When you have interference from an immovable obstruction you may think “great, I get free relief,” but remember that you must drop the ball within one club-length of the nearest point of relief. The nearest point of relief may not be in a desirable area. We like to say “it’s the nearest point, not the nicest point”. For instance, take a look at the picture below. The player clearly has stance interference from the cart path, but his nearest point of relief is in the bushes. Since the player must take complete relief he may choose to play the ball as it lies rather than dropping in the bush.
Tip: When you have interference from an immovable obstruction find your nearest point of relief and area you will be dropping before lifting your golf ball. If you pick your ball up and then decide to not take relief it will cost you a penalty stroke to put it back. Sometimes the best move is to play the ball as it lies and not take relief!