Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Taking Complete Relief (e.g. from an Immovable Obstruction)

This week I will try to clarify what is meant by taking complete (or full) relief from an immovable obstruction. In golfing terms, immovable obstructions are those man-made objects on the course that are either permanently fixed in place, or cannot easily be moved. Examples are artificial paths, permanently fixed course furniture and signs, sprinkler heads, maintenance structures, and walls, fences and railings, except when they define out of bounds.

A player may take relief from an immovable obstruction, without penalty, when their ball lies in or on the obstruction, or when the obstruction interferes with the player's stance or the area of their intended swing. Remember, that when an immovable obstruction intervenes on the intended line of play that is not, of itself, interference under this Rule. Nor is there relief for mental interference by an immovable obstruction, such as when a fence is close to, but not physically interfering with the intended stroke. Also, note that a player may take relief in this situation; that is they don’t have to. Quite often the nearest point of relief may result in the player having to deal with an even more difficult shot than where there ball is at rest close to the immovable obstruction.

When a player is taking relief from an immovable obstruction, they must first determine the nearest point, not nearer the hole, where there is no interference to the lie of their ball, their stance or the area of their intended swing, and then drop the ball (if they have been able to retrieve it) within one club-length of that point, not nearer the hole. The dropped ball must come to rest in a position that affords complete relief from the obstruction. For example, in the photo above, a player’s ball was lying on a cart path. They correctly identified the nearest point of relief, at point X, and dropped the ball there. However, the ball rolled to point Y and, instead of re-dropping the ball, they played it with the heel of one foot just touching the path. The reason why it is so important to take complete relief is that the player incurs the penalty for playing from the wrong place, if they fail to take relief that totally clears the interference; an expensive mistake when free relief is available when taken properly. This penalty is two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play.

Another situation where you have to take complete relief is when a Committee has introduced a Local Rule giving fee relief from young/staked trees. Such a Local Rule is established to protect the trees and it is usual that taking relief is mandatory, not optional. Therefore, if a player drops away from the tree and they then touch any part of the tree (including overhanging leaves or branches) with their club or person while making their stroke, they incur the penalty of two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play, for breaching the Local Rule.

Taking complete relief is a tricky concept, but it is worth taking the time to understand it if you are to avoid incurring unnecessary penalties.

Good golfing

Golf Club Members
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Anonymous said...

With regards to staked trees that are no longer young, but the trees are staked to give support against wind or some other reason, what happens if a ball is lost or unplayable high enough in the tree that the stake is not a factor. Is free relief under Rule 24 available in such circumstances?

Barry Rhodes said...

There is no relief from young/staked trees in the Rules of Golf unless there is a Local Rule that specifies that relief is available. However, assuming that there is such a Local Rule the player would be entitled to relief in the circumstances that you describe, providing they are able to positively identify the ball in the tree as being theirs.

There is no relief from the tree under Rule 24-2 - Immovable Obstructions, and no relief from the stake itself unless it physically interferes with the players lie, stance or area of intended swing.


Anonymous said...

I would like to explore a situation that we had recently. a player plays through a fence that is at the back of the green for health and safety reasons (ie not a boundary fence) to protect players on the next tee. The ball lands some twenty yards past the fence (25 yards past the green)and the fence is quite obviously 'in the way, and should not be there in natural conditions. We have a drop zone the other (green side) of the fence for balls that are against the fence but this would mean a twenty yard advantage nearer the hole in this case and means you could gain an advantage from a poor shot or deliberately overclubbing. I contend that nearest point of relief (sideways no nearer the hole probably or play as lies lob shot) are he options if relief is to be given at all. Views?

Barry Rhodes said...


The fence that you describe is an immovable obstruction from which there is no line of play relief. A player may only take relief if the immovable obstruction (fence) directly interferes with their lie, stance or area of intended swing, and in theses cases they may use the dropping zone as per the Local Rule. In all other cases the player must play around or over the immovable obstruction.


Bass Rock said...

Now have a name and crystal clear Barry. Interesting discussions ahead.

Mark McNee said...

Hi Barry,

I played a tie last night and on the 11th hole of our course runs an out of bounds fence all the way along the right hand side of the hole. My Second shot to the green ended up plugged (Ball was completely submerged) in the rough about 1 ft away from a fence post. It was a friendlily game, I know my opponent quite well so we agreed that the start after a deluge last night that balls plugged in the rough can be lifted and dropped. The difficult part and the part I need clarification on, is the fence post, my opponent stated that I could take relief from the post but within 1 club length and under the penalty of 1 shot, this turned the game on its head and I eventually lost the hole. obviously there is nothing I can do about it now, but I would just like to know what the proper ruling would be for next time.

Barry Rhodes said...


Your opponent was right in so far as there is no free relief from an out of bounds fence post. You were playing 'your own Local Rule' permitting relief for a ball that was embedded in the rough, so you could have lifted your ball, cleaned it and dropped it as near as possible to where it was embedded, without penalty. You could also have deemed your ball unplayable and dropped it within two club-lengths of where it was at rest, not nearer the hole, for a penalty of one stroke (Rule 28).


Cool4u said...

Hi Barry
My opponents ball was lying close to the boundary fence and a sapling for which free relief as per club rules is permitted. However the sapling was not interfering with his stance, would not have interfered with his intended swing with the intended club. But my opponent chose to use the longest club in his bag(not the club that he would reasonably use from that position) and claim that the sapling was now in his intended swing. Was he authorised free relief under rule 24?

Barry Rhodes said...


The player was not entitled to take relief from the sapling in the circumstances that you describe. Part of Decision 24-2b/1 states;

May the player use any club, address position, direction of play or swing in determining the nearest point of relief?


I recommend that you read the whole of the Decision for a full understanding of the principle.