Date: May 31, 2016
Author: Sue Fabian

Rules: Are you entitled to free relief?

Rules 24-2, 25-1 and 25-3 give players free relief from conditions which are not normally regarded as part of the natural environment of a golf course. Rule 24-2 permits relief, except in water hazards, from artificial constructions such as paths, roads, drains and culverts which have been built for the management of the course. Rule 25-1 provides relief from abnormal conditions, such as accumulations of water outside water hazards, various types of damage to the course, or areas which the Committee wishes to protect, such as new plantings of trees or grass; while Rule 25-3 gives relief from a wrong putting green.

These Rules are able to be varied in some respects, at the discretion of the Committee, by Local Rule. For example, certain artificial constructions such as roads, paths or rock walls may be declared integral parts of the course from which free relief is not available. Committees may (and frequently do) declare stakes to be Immovable Obstructions, and may restrict relief from certain areas of abnormal ground conditions to lie of the ball and the area of intended swing only. Relief from other conditions, such as staked trees, may be made compulsory. It is therefore important for all players to be familiar with the Local Rules of any course on which they play, because a breach of a Local Rule results in a penalty of loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play.

The procedure for taking relief under Rules 24-2, 25-1 and 25-3 is the same, and is a two-part process.  Step one is to find the nearest point of relief. Step two is to measure one club length from this point and to drop the ball correctly. Players often short-cut this process, simply dropping the ball at a spot which they estimate to be about a club length.  Decision 24-2b/2 confirms that this is permissible, provided the ball is dropped at a spot which in fact satisfies the requirements of the Rule under which the player is proceeding. However, it is worth the extra few seconds to follow the process properly, since the player will have a much better chance of dropping the ball in an advantageous position while still complying with the Rules, and will avoid the risk of penalty for playing from a wrong place.

Step one: The “nearest point of relief.”

Relief taken under Rule 24-2 and Rule 25-1 and 25-3 must be complete relief, that is, there must be no interference with lie of ball, stance or area of intended swing from the condition from which the relief is taken (Decision 20-2c/0.5). Exception: when taking relief from a Wrong Putting Green, relief is for the lie of the ball only, not stance. Therefore the first step is to determine the nearest spot where complete relief occurs. The player does this by using the club, address position, direction of play and swing which he/she would have used if the condition were not there, and finding the spot from which the ball can be played which gives complete relief (Definition of “Nearest Point of Relief; Decision 24-2b/1). This spot is then marked.

It is important to remember that in taking relief under Rule 24 or 25, the relief is only from the specific condition, and there is generally only one “nearest point”. It is irrelevant that the nearest point of relief or the place where the ball must be dropped is in an unpleasant, unplayable or even inaccessible place (see Decisions 24-2b/3 and 24-2b/3.5). For example, the fact that the nearest point of relief is in the middle of the trunk of a large tree does not change its status as the nearest point of relief. It is therefore a good idea, except where relief is compulsory, to take a careful look at the area where the ball is to be dropped before lifting it from its original position. Once the ball is lifted, if the player finds that the ball is to be dropped in an unplayable lie and decides not to take relief and to replace the ball, a penalty of one stroke is unavoidable because the ball in play has been lifted (Decision 18-2a/12).

Step two: Measuring one club length; dropping the ball.

Having determined the nearest point of relief, the player must measure one club length, no nearer the hole. For measuring, any of the player’s clubs may be used. For example, although the nearest point of relief may have been determined using a pitching wedge, the player may use a driver to measure a club length. A good rule of thumb for measuring is that, in free relief situations, only one club length is permitted, whereas in penalty situations such as Ball Unplayable or relief from a Lateral Water Hazard, two club lengths are permitted. Once a particular club has been used for measuring, that club remains the measure until the particular relief situation has been completed (Decision 20/1).

The player must then drop the ball within the club length so that it first strikes the correct part of the course, (that is, where the condition from which relief is being taken is located). For example, if relief is being taken for casual water in a bunker, the player must not drop the ball outside the edge of the bunker in the hope that it will roll into the bunker without plugging. If the ball first strikes the ground outside the club length, on an incorrect part of the course, or nearer the hole than either its original position or the nearest point of relief, or if it touches any person or the equipment of any player before or after it first touches the ground and before it comes to rest, it must be re-dropped without penalty. The drop does not count, and there is no limit to the number of times the ball must be re-dropped under these circumstances (Rule 20-2a).  If the ball when dropped has struck the ground correctly, but then rolls into a position covered by Rule 20-2c, it must be re-dropped. However, in this case, the drop counts, and if the ball rolls back into any of the positions covered in Rule 20-2c, it must be placed as near as possible to the spot where it first struck a part of the course when re-dropped.


· A player must have complete relief for the club taken to determine the nearest point of relief.   For example, if a player has used a 4 iron to determine the nearest point of relief, and the ball when dropped rolls into a position where he/she does not have complete relief for a stroke played with the 4 iron, but where there would be complete relief for a stroke with a wedge, the ball must still be re-dropped (Decision 20-2c/0.7).

· Once the relief procedure is completed for a particular condition, the player may use a different club to play the stroke from that which was used to determine the nearest point of relief (Decision  24-2b/4 ). For example, if a player has used a wedge to determine the nearest point of relief, but has been able to drop the ball into a good lie and wishes to play the next stroke with a wood, he/she may do so.

· If the player elects to play the next stroke with a different club from that used to determine the nearest point of relief, and finds that there is interference from the condition with the stroke with this club, provided complete relief has been taken for a shot with the club used to determine the nearest point of relief, he/she may now either play the ball as it lies, or again go through the procedure for taking relief with the new club (Decision 20-2c/0.8). Since the original relief procedure has been correctly carried out in accordance with the Rules, it is completed, and the player is now in a new situation.

· A player may encounter, in the same area, more than one condition for which free relief is available. For example, the ball may be lying in casual water within an area of Ground Under Repair. Each condition is separate, and must be treated separately in taking relief. For example, the player may choose to take relief from the casual water, but drop and play the ball from within the GUR, or might choose to simply take relief from the GUR (Decision 25-1b/11).

Sue Fabian is a Golf Australia National Level Referee & previous Golf NSW Board Member.