Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Immovable Obstruction or Integral to the Course?

Nick Faldo playing from the road on 17th hole, St. Andrews
I received a question last week similar to this;
I have noticed that on some score cards Club Committees identify immovable obstructions from which free relief can be taken under Rule 24-2, e.g. cart paths, maintenance shed, sprinkler heads and manhole covers. But other immovable obstructions on the course are not listed, e.g. ball washers, fixed furniture and permanent course signage. Does this mean that anything artificial and not easily movable is integral to the course if not included in the list?
I have often wondered why some Committees feel the need to condense a Rule of Golf (in this case Rule 24-2) into a few words and incorrectly include it as a Local Rule on their score cards. Appendix l, Part A, Local Rules, includes this sentence;
As provided in Rule 33-8a, the Committee may make and publish Local Rules for local abnormal conditions if they are consistent with the policy established in this Appendix.
Here is the Definition of Obstructions;
An "obstruction" is anything artificial, including the artificial surfaces and sides of roads and paths and manufactured ice, except:
a.    Objects defining out of bounds, such as walls, fences, stakes and railings;
b.    Any part of an immovable artificial object that is out of bounds; and
c.    Any construction declared by the Committee to be an integral part of the course.

An obstruction is a movable obstruction if it may be moved without unreasonable effort, without unduly delaying play and without causing damage. Otherwise, it is an immovable obstruction.

Note: The Committee may make a Local Rule declaring a movable obstruction to be an immovable obstruction.
It is evident from this definition that most obstructions are definitely not local abnormal conditions, though the note at the foot of the Definition provides an exception. An example of a movable obstruction that may be defined as an immovable obstruction is a water hazard stake, Decision 33-8/16. However, this Local Rule is not recommended, as it may result in players who are not aware of this unusual practice being penalised under Rule 13-2 for moving such a stake.

Another reason for not listing immovable obstructions in a Local Rule is that it is almost certain that there will be omissions, as in the question above, where ball washers, fixed furniture and permanent course signage were not included in the list, though free relief from them is available under Rule 24-2. Even if a totally comprehensive list is provided, other unforeseen instances can arise, e.g. a golf course mower that has broken down on a fairway.

Ideally, to avoid unnecessary confusion, the only reference to obstructions in Local Rules should be where an immovable obstruction is defined as being integral to the course. So, for example, a Local Rule for the Old Course, St. Andrews Links, states;

Roads and Paths (Rule 28):
All roads and paths are integral parts of the course. The ball must be played as it lies or declared unplayable.
As a pedant (!), I recommend that St. Andrews Links Trust should remove the word ‘declared’ and replaced it with ‘deemed’, which is more accurate, according to the wording of Rule 28.

In summary, my recommendation to Golf Club Committees is that they check their Local Rules and remove anything that is already covered by the Rules of Golf, especially anything contained therein that does not deal with local abnormal conditions.

Video Example of a Rule 18-5 Incident:
Click here and scroll down to view a short video of Rickie Fowler’s bouncing ball hitting Jordan Spieth’s stationary ball on the putting green at last week’s Tour Championship by Coca-Cola. The action provides an excellent reminder of Rule 18-5;

If a ball in play and at rest is moved by another ball in motion after a stroke, the moved ball must be replaced.
Good golfing,


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Tom Watts said...

Hello Barry,
I had a recent experience in our Club Championship where a relatively small retaining wall, which almost (but not quite perfectly) lined up with the out-of-bounds stakes, came in to play. My opponents ball came to rest up against one of the posts of the retaining wall. His ball was inbounds and so was the post he was up against, but the rest of the wall was out-of-bounds. He played two balls. The first ball from the original lie, he proceeded to hit out-of-bounds, and forfeited the hole. The second ball he took complete relief from the retaining wall, including the part that was out-of-bounds, and tied the hole. After we got in and explained the situation, the committee ruled that he should get complete relief. But after reading more, I'm not sure this was correct. What do you think?

Barry Rhodes said...


There is no relief from an immovable obstruction that is out of bounds, Rule 24-2b/21. A Committee must accurately define out of bounds, so any Local Rule could be relevant. If the wall was defined as a boundary then the out of bounds line is determined by the nearest inside points at ground level of the wall posts and so in the circumstance you describe, no relief was available from the post of the retaining wall. As the second ball played was not played within the Rules the original ball was the one to count.


Tom Watts said...

Thanks Barry, one follow up question:

For the case where the committee has not well-defined the OB, and only the white OB posts that span the retaining wall are used for defining OB, and for the case where the retaining wall post is in-bounds but the horizontal wooden boards of the retaining wall are out-of-bounds, would a player be entitled to relief from the retaining wall in-bounds post, but not get relief from the out-of-bounds horizontal wooden boards of the retaining wall?

Barry Rhodes said...


Where posts or stakes define out of bounds, a player may take relief from any immovable obstruction of which all or part is on the course, i.e. on the course side of an imaginary line drawn between the nearest inside points of the stakes at ground level.