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Rules of Golf - Relief Area

December 1, 2023

Written by:  Darin Green, Senior Director of Rules & Competitions

Anytime a player must drop a ball under the Rules, the ball must be dropped in what is called the “relief area.” Except when using back-on-the-line relief where the relief area is just a spot on the line going backwards, most other drops have a relief area of one or two club-lengths in size. If a player is dropping in a designated drop zone, then the relief area is the entire defined zone, normally a painted circle.

For more on when you use one club-length or two club-lengths please see a previous article here.

This short article focuses on what you are allowed, and not allowed, to do in the relief area before dropping a ball. Rule 8.1 tells us the restrictions in the relief area before dropping a ball.

Actions that are NOT allowed:

  • Move, bend or break any growing or attached natural object. Obviously, when a player is standing and moving around the relief area some things might move, bend, or break, but if the player was taking reasonable actions (not doing anything with the intent to improve the relief area) the player is ok.
  • Move or break any immovable obstruction or integral object.
  • Move a tee-marker when taking relief back into the teeing area.
  • Move a loose impediment or movable obstruction into a position that improves your relief area.
  • Replace divots in a divot hole, or fill a divot hole with sand.
  • Creating or eliminating holes, indentations or uneven surfaces. A player must not purposely press down the grass to improve the relief area.
  • Remove or press down sand or loose soil.
  • Remove dew, frost or water.

The penalty for breaching one of the items listed above before dropping a ball in a relief area is the General Penalty (loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play).

Actions that are allowed:

  • Remove loose impediments (leaves, twigs, loose stones, moss on the ground, etc.) and movable obstructions (broken tee, food wrapper, etc.).
  • Taking reasonable actions on and around the relief area that might breach an action that is not allowed. For instance, a player steps into the relief area to remove some leaves, and in doing so, the player’s feet removes dew and slightly presses down the grass; there is no penalty.

For more on the Rules of Golf, enjoy these short USGA videos HERE.