Stumped by something you’ve seen out on the course? Our rules expert will find you the answers

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s level 2 rules exam with distinction, I am more than happy to help.

This is a question I get asked a lot and so – for all of you who’ve sent it in and for anyone who just isn’t sure – stand back as I reveal all.

“If a player has a sprinkler head between their ball and the line to the hole, do they get free relief? The ball isn’t on the green.”

Rules of Golf explained: Our expert says…

The answer is: drum roll please…

No, not normally. But don’t despair, for there is often another way.

Sprinkler heads are immovable obstructions, which are defined as an abnormal course condition in the Rules. You’re allowed free relief, under Rule 16.1, if your ball touches or is on an abnormal course condition, if it physically interferes with the area of intended stance and swing, or “only when the ball is on the putting green, an abnormal course condition on or off the putting green intervenes in the line of play”.

The Rule carries on to say “if the abnormal course condition is close enough to distract the player but does not meet any of these requirements, there is no interference under this Rule”.

So in this situation, with the ball off the green, a sprinkler head on a player’s line of play isn’t interference and free relief would not usually be allowed.

Hang on, though, I hear you say. ‘I’m sure I’ve taken free relief before?’ And now we come on to the other way.

What happens is that a club can allow free relief in their Local Rules. In the big, bulky, Official Guide to the Rules of Golf, they’re shown how to do it in Model Local Rule F-5: ‘Immovable Obstructions Close to Putting Greens’.

The purpose says: “When a ball lies anywhere other than on the putting green, an immovable obstruction on the player’s line of play is not, of itself, interference under Rule 16.1. Free relief is normally not allowed.

“But if the aprons or fringes of putting greens are cut short enough that putting from off the green is likely to be a common choice of stroke, immovable obstructions that are close to the putting green may interfere with such strokes.

“In that case, the Committee can choose to give an extra relief option under Rule 16.1 when a player’s ball lies in the general area or on the putting green and an immovable obstruction close to the putting green is on the player’s line of play.

“The Committee may limit such relief to certain situations, such as only for particular holes or obstructions, or only when the ball and the obstruction are in part of the general area cut to fairway height or less.”

Here’s an example of that Local Rule in practice at the Home of Golf – in this case the New Course

Rules of Golf

So make sure to check the Local Rules in the clubhouse, or on the back of the scorecard, to see if it is in operation. You might just get lucky.

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