Your shot has not gone as planned and it’s now buried. Are you able to take embedded ball relief? Our Rules of Golf expert has you covered

Golfers are eternally hopeful, aren’t they? At least they are when it comes to thinking they can execute the most miraculous of shots. Let Guy Powell’s email explain…

“Playing at our local course recently (winter rules apply) my playing partner’s ball was in quite a steep downward undulation within the first cut.

“Being an optimistic player he choose a ‘go-for-the-green’ shot and inevitably topped the ball. This resulted in simply depressing the ball, in the same place he struck it. Three quarters of the ball was now below the surface area.

“The ball had not left the ground at all – it had simply been ‘pushed/pressed’ into the ground by the club. The debate was ‘is this a pitch mark or not?’

“As he couldn’t decide, he choose to take a penalty stroke but I still think this was really a ‘pitch mark’. The clubhouse discussion was pretty much a 50/50 split. Can you please advise the correct ruling and the logic behind it?”

I can indeed, Guy, I can indeed…

When can you take embedded ball relief?

Let’s start by establishing when your ball is embedded because that catches a few people out. It’s all covered in Rule 16.3.

You can only take embedded ball relief if it’s in the general area (you can mark, lift, clean, repair damage, and replace if it happens on the putting green).

There are usually two exceptions to this – the first is when the ball is embedded in sand which is in a part of the general area that is not cut to fairway height or less.

The second is if it would be clearly unreasonable to play the ball as it lies, such as when you can’t make a stroke because it’s in a bush, so don’t think you can get out of jail if you’ve found yourself in that kind of trouble.

A club can also bring in a Local Rule that restricts relief to when a ball is in part of the general area that’s cut to fairway height or less, and they can also refuse to allow relief for a ball that is plugged in the wall or lip of a bunker.

What constitutes an embedded ball then? It is when it’s in its own pitch mark, made as a result of a player’s last stroke, and where part of the ball is “below the level of the ground”.

People get caught out here, thinking the ball is embedded if it is sat down in deep grass. But, as you can see, that’s not necessarily the case.

Sometimes you might not be clear whether the ball is in its own pitch mark or not. What now? Rule 16.3a (2) says if you can’t tell for sure, you can treat the ball as embedded “if it is reasonable to conclude from the available information that the ball is in its own pitch mark”.

So far so good for Guy’s playing partner. But here’s where it all comes crashing down in flames.

A ball is not embedded if it is pushed into the ground by someone stepping on it, if it was dropped in taking relief under a Rule, or – and this is the key in this situation – when it is “driven straight into the ground without becoming airborne”.

So if the ball had topped, gone up in the air, and then plugged – fine. Find the spot in the general area that’s right behind where the ball is embedded and then drop within a one-club length relief area.

But if it has never got off the ground, if it has never seen daylight on its way to plugging, then Guy’s partner made the right choice.

What are your options now? You can, of course, take stroke and distance relief. Or you can declare your ball unplayable. Both, though, are going to cost you a penalty stroke.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s Level 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help by featuring the best in this column.

You can read all of Steve’s Rules of Golf explained columns here.

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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