Bear got your ball? If there are critters threatening your safety, here’s what the Rules of Golf say you should do

One of the great things about golf is the chance to be at one with nature. The problem with that is that nature is sometimes a bit mean.

The alligators that stalk courses in Florida are the source of a thousand memes during PGA Tour events, and we’ve all seen footage of bears using greens and flagsticks as playgrounds and toys.

The less said about fire ants the better. They genuinely make my skin crawl.

But even in good old Blighty, there are plenty of dangers waiting to snare the unwary. Adders stalk the high grass, and accidentally interfering with a wasps or bees nest will send even the bravest of us running for cover.

So what happens when we hit our ball into peril? Let’s delve into the world of the dangerous animal condition and how the Rules of Golf deal with them…

What is a dangerous animal condition?

Rule 16.2 says it exists when a dangerous animal – such as those we’ve just been discussing above – near a ball could “cause serious physical injury to the player if he or she had to play the ball as it lies”.

Can I take free relief?

Oh yes, if an alligator’s interfering with your ball no one is expecting you to run the gauntlet. You can take free relief from a dangerous animal condition no matter where your ball is on the course.

But don’t get creative. There are two exceptions to this otherwise relief free-for-all. These are:

– When playing the ball is “clearly unreasonable” because of something other than the dangerous animal condition – such as there’s a bear taking a close interest in your ball but it’s buried in the middle of a bush. Where the ball is lying would mean you were unable to make a stroke, so you couldn’t use the animal as an excuse to get a free drop.

– When you contrive a stance, swing, or direction of play, or choose a club, that would mean interference existed but was “clearly unreasonable under the circumstances”.

How do I take relief?

If you’re not in a penalty area, you’d take relief as you would for an abnormal course condition if your ball was in the general area, bunker, or putting green.

Let’s assume, in this case, it’s in the general area. Find the nearest point of complete relief that’s still in that area, is no nearer the hole, and has complete relief from any interference from the dangerous animal condition.

You then have a one-club area within which to drop.

What if my ball is in a penalty area?

When this happens you have a choice. You can take free relief inside the penalty area – except that the nearest point of complete relief still has to be in the penalty area – or you can take penalty relief under Rule 17.1d.

If you do that, and there’s still interference (those bees can move swiftly, you know), then you can take further relief from the dangerous animal condition and you won’t tack on an additional penalty shot.

What about things like poison ivy?

Get on with it, I’m afraid. There’s an interpretation to Rule 16.2a that isn’t handing out any sympathy when it comes to plant life. Dangerous course conditions don’t apply.

It makes sense when you realise that you don’t get relief from thorns in bushes, or any other pointy things that will draw blood if you’re careless.

But while that might not surprise you if your ball is in a spot where there’s interference from a plant or bush that could cause physical harm – like poison ivy for instance – you might think twice given it also applies even if you “may be allergic to a given plant”.

The Rules here are ruthless. Play it as it lies, or take any of the usual penalty relief options open to you.

And if I just do what I want anyway?

Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Take relief when you’re not entitled and you’ll be hit with the general penalty (two shots or loss of hole in match play) for playing from the wrong place.

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