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There are several golf rules about sensitive areas where taking your shot can become awkward. These rules give you relief without imposing a penalty on your play and are applicable for three main areas; natural obstacles, ponds or other bodies of water, or man-made obstacles.
• Grass, flowers, plants, fences, and trees
• When you are forced to stand in or hit your shot under circumstances that you wouldn’t normally have to face.
• Man-made immovable objects, such as fences, trash cans, cart paths, and more.
You are allowed to move your ball without having to face a penalty when it is against an obstacle. However you cannot move it more than one club length away.
In this article, I will take a closer look at the rules for when your shot is obstructed by a tree, fence, or other obstacle and the courses of action you may have at your disposal.
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General Golf Obstacle Rules
Whenever you find that there is an obstacle that would prohibit/limit you from taking your shot. You will need to find the nearest location where you intend to take the relief to.
According to the rules, the ball’s distance from the hole should not reduce because of the relief. You should endeavor to place the ball at the same or an increased distance.
When getting complete relief, you will need to move the ball to a position where your swing is no longer affected by the obstruction. However, the relief doesn’t mean that you will get a better shot after it. You may find that although your swing is now clear, you may have a whole tree in the way or other obstruction in front of you.
At any given point, there is only one nearest relief point possible. When choosing the relief point, place your ball no more than one club length away. You are also allowed to clean your ball if it has gotten dirty.
Golf Rules – Ball Against Tree
If you can take the swing, the golf rules suggest that you should try to play it as it lies, just like if the ball is stuck up a tree or on a rock. However, local golf course committees can also create a local rule where the players are allowed to take relief if they feel that their club won’t swing/reach.
Balls that go into tree trunks may not always be recoverable. If the ball can be seen, but not recovered or the player and observers are definite that the ball is within the tree trunk, a new ball may be placed as close to the tree as possible for the shot.
If the ball is stuck in the roots of the tree, again, the player has the choice to either play the ball as is or at least position it in a way that doesn’t hurt the tree.
It is important to note that when trying to play such shots, players must keep their safety above all else. In 2013, Sergio Garcia played a ball stuck in a tree by climbing up and dislodging it. However, he hurt himself in the process and therefore, had to withdraw a bit later.
For an unplayable ball, USGA rule 19 allows one penalty stroke and three options:
1. You can take a stroke-and-distance relief, i.e., going back to where you last played, dropping the ball within one club-length (not nearer to the hole), or the teeing area.
2. Back-on-the-line relief, i.e., you get to drop the ball within one club-length at a point (not closer to the hole) on the golf course that indicates a direct line from the hole to the spot where the ball was stuck.
3. Lateral relief, i.e., dropping the ball within two club-lengths away from where it got stuck.
To further make things easier for the players, golf rules for situations where the ball is against a tree also stipulate you can use a substitute ball – you don’t have to climb the tree to retrieve it.
Golf Rules – Ball Against Fence
If your ball gets too close to the right-hand side fence on a hole it is no longer considered to be out of bounds. Although the fence is still there, it is defined as a water hazard, hence classifying it as an immovable obstruction.
The rules for a ball stuck in or near the fence are the same as golf rules for a ball against other obstacles.
According to the 24-2B R&A/USGA rules, you can lift the ball and drop it without incurring the penalty if the fence is obstructing your swing or your stance. Simply place the club next to the ball and move the ball away from the fence.
If you find yourself stuck behind a tree after moving the ball. Unfortunately, you don’t get to pick the ball up and move it again. You will have to lose a shot trying to get it back on track.
Again, you also have the option of playing the ball as is.
Golf Rules – Ball Against Other Obstacles
Other obstacles may involve a wide range of things, such as:
• Sprinklers heads
• Electric box(es)
• Water pipes
• Yardage markers, and other man-made objects you will typically find at a golf course.
According to the R&A/USGA Rule 24, you can pick the ball up and place it a club-length away. If the obstruction is still not out of the way, you can repeat the process, but after 2 club-lengths, you cannot move the ball. You may have to lose a shot trying to nudge the ball away from the obstruction.
Furthermore, the rules also suggest that you should first try to check if the obstruction can be removed. If the ball isn’t touching the obstruction, you can also try to continue playing.
If the obstruction is movable and the ball moves along with it or if an animal simply takes the ball away, you have the option of either starting over or placing a new ball without any penalty.
For all these obstruction golf rules, the procedure will differ based on where the ball is. If it is on the putting green, you cannot exceed the nearest point of relief, and if it takes you out of the putting green, you will need to comply.
If, however, you are in a bunker, you can use the relief rule but only if you place the ball within the bunker. If you choose to drop the ball outside, you will receive a penalty (one-stroke).
Obstructions in a golf course are a natural part of the game, and it is okay to take the relief. Just because you chose to put the ball a club-length away, it doesn’t make you a weaker player – just one who knows his/her limitations.