Rule of the Month: The Importance of Words | Oregon Golf Association

Rule of the Month: The Importance of Words

By OGA Senior Rules Officials: Pete Scholz and Terry McEvilly
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While one of the main tenets underlying the Rules of Golf is that the ball should be played as it lies, we all know that often times doing so would put golfers at a disadvantage through no fault of their own. A ball often times comes to rest in situations that would be unfair if the golfer were required to play it as it lies – on a cart path, in a hole made by a gopher or against a sprinkler control box.    Fortunately, the Rules provide “relief without penalty”, more commonly known as “free relief”.   But such relief scenarios can be confusing. Even PGA Tour players will often wait for the assistance of an Official to prevent proceeding incorrectly and incurring a penalty.  And, as with every Rule in the book, the definitions become vital in understanding the multi-level process of relief without penalty.  We will begin with the definitions and the next few articles will focus on relief procedures. You can get a head start by reading Rules 24 and 25, but the answers to this month’s questions will be found in the Definitions section, which is located near the front of the Rules of Golf Booklet. 

Questions:  True/False

  1. A hole dug by a dog is an Abnormal Ground Condition.
  2. A man-made ditch is an obstruction.
  3. A ball that lies on a practice putting green, located on the course, is not on a wrong putting green since it is not one of the eighteen putting greens being played.
  4. Materials, such as leaves and aeration plugs, piled for removal later are automatically deemed Ground Under Repair.
  5. If an obstruction may be rolled out of the way with the help of fourteen spectators, it is considered a movable obstruction.
  6. Stakes defining the out of bounds margins are immovable obstructions unless the Committee declares them movable. 
  7. Stakes used to define the margin of Ground Under Repair are NOT part of the GUR.
  8. When taking relief without penalty, the Nearest Point of Relief may never be nearer the hole than the original location of the ball. 
  9. The Nearest Point of Relief is a point on the course where, if the ball were so positioned that no interference would exists and is within one club-length of the condition.
  10. A player should use the club he would have made his next stroke with to determine the Nearest Point of Relief.


  1. False.    A hole dug by a burrowing animal, such as a gopher, for habitation is an Abnormal Ground Condition.  However, a dog is not a burrowing animal and a hole dug by a dog is not for habitation.  The hole is an irregularity of surface for which there is no relief without penalty.  If the damage is severe, a player would be justified in asking the Committee to declare the area as Ground Under Repair (Definitions of Abnormal Ground Conditions and Burrowing Animal).
  2. False.  A ditch, even man-made, is a water hazard for which there is no relief without penalty (Definition of Water Hazard).   French drains that have been installed for drainage may be declared by the Committee by a Local Rule to be Ground Under Repair.  The French drains must be listed on the Hard Card or the Notice to Players for a player to invoke relief without penalty. 
  3. False.  Every putting green other than the putting green of the hole being played is a wrong putting green.  This includes practice putting and pitching greens on the course (Definition of Wrong Putting Green).
  4. True.  Even if the material is not marked as such, if it has been piled for removal it is automatically Ground Under Repair.  However, material that is piled but abandoned is not Ground Under Repair and there would be no relief without penalty (Definition of Ground Under Repair).
  5. False.  Securing the help of fourteen spectators to remove an obstruction would be considered unreasonable effort.  Therefore, the obstruction would be considered an immovable obstruction unless the Committee has declared it an integral part of the course.  This situation differs from the famed Tiger Woods removal of a huge boulder with the help of the gallery.  In that situation, the stone was a loose impediment and provided the stone was not solidly embedded it remains a loose impediment regardless of the size (Definitions of Obstructions and Loose Impediments).
  6. False.  Stakes used to either define or identify the out of bounds margin are not obstructions.  Rather, by definition, they are off the course and fixed.  The Committee does have the authority to declare the stakes that are only identifying the out of bounds to be obstructions by a Local Rule.  However, this is rarely done and the player must not purposely move the stake to eliminate interference (Definition of Out of Bounds).
  7. True.  It is correct that the stakes that define the margin of the Ground Under Repair are in the condition but the stakes remain obstructions.  Therefore, a player that has interference from the stake only may remove it if it is movable (Definition of Ground Under Repair).
  8. True.  The first stipulation when determining the Nearest Point of Relief is that it must not be nearer the hole than where the ball lies (Definition of Nearest Point of Relief).
  9. False.  The first part of this question is true in that it is a point on the course where, if the ball was so positioned, no interference from the condition would exist.  However, this spot may be further away than one club-length (Definition of Nearest Point of Relief).
  10. True.  As we will see in the coming articles, the player may measure the drop area with any club he has in his bag but in order to accurately determine the Nearest Point of Relief, the player should use the club with which he would have made his next stroke if the condition was not there (Definition of Nearest Point of Relief).

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