Roads And Paths: When Do I Get A Drop?

This is a question frequently asked by players when they play in a competition or event away from their own course.

Relief without penalty is generally available under Rule 24-2 from artificially-surfaced roads and paths since they are “obstructions” by definition (see page 39 of the Rules of Golf booklet).

However, a number of issues need to be clarified before we can say for certain that free relief is available from a path.

Firstly, a track or path formed by vehicle or buggy movement is not an obstruction, so free relief is not available.

Secondly, what constitutes artificial surfacing? Decision 24/9 tells us that “A road or path to which any foreign material, e.g. concrete, tar, gravel, wood chips, etc. has been added is artificially-surfaced and thus an obstruction.”

Therefore, if the path is surfaced with material that wasn’t there before, it is regarded under the rules as being artificially surfaced, even if the material is something natural such as gravel or wood chips.

Note that this applies whether or not the path has a border constructed of wood, concrete or something similar.

Thirdly, always check the Local Rules on the score card for guidance when seeking relief from immovable obstructions such as surfaced roads and paths.

A committee may declare any obstruction (including an artificially surfaced path) an integral part of the course.

If it does so, there is no free relief and the options available are to play the ball as it lies or declare it unplayable.

The most famous example of this is on the Road Hole at the Old Course in St Andrews. The road has always been an important element of the hole, and to allow free relief would eliminate one of its essential obstacles.

Incidentally, the provision that the committee can declare any construction an integral part of the course, disallowing relief, was introduced in 1976 because of the R & A’s reluctance to give free relief from the road on the Road Hole. Prior to this, such roads and paths were not obstructions and relief was allowed only under a Local Rule.

Finally, having established that a particular path is an obstruction because it is “artificially” surfaced and that there is no Local Rule declaring it as an integral part of the course, relief would still be denied if the following exception to Rule 24-2 were to apply.

Exception

A player may not obtain relief under Rule 24-2 if (a) it is clearly unreasonable for him to make a stroke because of interference by anything other than an immovable obstruction or (b) interference by an immovable obstruction would occur only through use of an unnecessarily abnormal stance, swing or direction of play (see page 97 of the Rules of Golf Booklet).

Examples of the application of the exceptions include:

Decision 24-2b/16

Q. A player’s ball lies between two exposed tree roots. The ball is clearly unplayable due to the roots.

An immovable obstruction is so located that it would interfere with the player’s backswing if the player could play the ball.

The player claims he is entitled to relief, without penalty, under Rule 24-2b(i).

Is the player correct?

A. No. See Exception under Rule 24-2b. The player must invoke Rule 28 (the Unplayable Ball Rule).

Decision 24-2b/19

Q. A right-handed player’s ball is in a poor lie. A nearby immovable obstruction would not interfere with a normal right-handed swing but it would interfere with a left-handed swing.

The player says he wishes to play his next stroke left-handed and, since the obstruction would interfere with such a stroke, he is entitled to proceed under Rule 24-2b.

May the player invoke Rule 24-2b?

A. No. If the only reason for the player to use a left-handed stroke is to escape a poor lie, use of an abnormal (left-handed) stroke is not justifiable and the player is not entitled to invoke Rule 24-2b — see Exception under Rule 24-2b.