Finding your ball in the centre of a piece of tarmac isn't unusual but do you know how to go about taking relief from a path? These are your options

So your ball has landed on a path. Most of us know that we can either play it as it lies, or we can take free relief. But what do the Rules of Golf actually say? How do we go about taking relief from a path and what are the exceptions?

Under the new Rules of Golf released in January, paths are classed as an abnormal course condition.

Rule 16 allows you to take free relief as such conditions are not treated “as part of the challenge of playing the course”.

Specifically, a path is an immovable obstruction and relief is allowed under 16.1a if interference exists in the following circumstances…

“Your ball touches or is in an abnormal course condition.

“An abnormal course condition physically interferes with your area of intended stance or area of intended swing, or

“Only when your ball is on the putting green, an abnormal course condition on or off the putting green intervenes on the line of play.”

It’s important to remember that if the abnormal course condition – in this case a path – is close enough to distract the player but doesn’t meet those key requirements listed above then it is tough luck and get on with the game.

If you can take relief, where you do so depends on where the ball is and where your stance is – as this handy diagram from the Rules of Golf explains…

So, in this illustration, the first ball (B1) lies on the path. A relief area is established away from the path at the nearest point of complete relief.

It is different for the second ball, where the abnormal course condition is affecting the stance.

Again, the nearest point of complete relief is achieved but, here, it is the stance that has to be clear of the abnormal course condition.

Sound OK?

Relief in this fashion can be taken anywhere on the course, except when the ball is in a penalty area.

The type of club you use, and the kind of stroke you employ, can also affect whether or not you are entitled to relief.

For example, if the interference only existed because “a player chooses a club, type of stance or swing or direction of play that is clearly unreasonable under the circumstances” you wouldn’t be entitled to a free drop.

Don’t believe, either, that taking free relief always entitles you to a lovely, perfect lie. The interpretation of Rule 16.1 reveals it does not, and here’s where the “nearest point of complete relief” part becomes very important.

Say your ball was on a path, you elected to take free relief and the nearest point of complete relief was in a gorse bush.

In this case, sorry, but you’re dropping in the bush. So think carefully before you race to pick up your ball if you see it on a path. You may be better off playing it as it lies.

Once you’ve decided you’re going to take relief, you find a reference point – at the nearest point of complete relief – which is one club length in area and is not nearer the hole than the reference point, before performing the drop from knee height.