R&A Rules Newsletter reader, Mick Collinson wrote to The R&A with the following request.
“I enjoy the Rules Newsletters very much and I ask if you can do a feature on relief from rabbit scrapes and when the ball is adjacent to a tree. This is one of the bones of contention; certainly within my club it is the start of many a dispute.”
An abnormal ground condition is any casual water, ground under repair or hole, cast or runway on the course made by a burrowing animal. A player is entitled to relief from an abnormal ground condition when the ball lies in or touches the condition or when the condition interferes with the player’s stance or the area of his intended swing (Rule 25-1a).
If the player has interference as is defined in the Rules, the player is entitled to free relief under Rule 25-1b. In terms of Mr Collinson’s query, the key is the Exception to Rule 25-1b and deciding if this applies or not to the situation.
The Exception to this Rule states: A player may not take relief under this Rule if (a) interference by anything other than an abnormal ground condition makes the stroke clearly impracticable or (b) interference by an abnormal ground condition would occur only through use of a clearly unreasonable stroke or an unnecessarily abnormal stance, swing or direction of play.
It is for the player to prove that the ball is actually in a playable position. For example, if a ball lies in the deep in the roots of a tree and a rabbit hole interferes with his stance, the player should be denied relief as it is clearly not practicable to make a stroke due to the tree roots. Basically, the rabbit scrape cannot be used as an "excuse" to avoid a penalty for what is essentially an unplayable ball.
The player must also prove that the stroke he is intending to play is not unnecessarily abnormal. Sometimes it is necessary to play a stroke or have a stance that is not the norm for the player, or to play in a direction other than towards the hole. For example, a right-handed player may have to play left-handed or the player may have to chip out to the side to avoid a tree or the player may need to amend his stance to play the ball. None of these actions, although abnormal, would be considered unnecessary when a tree interferes with the stroke.
However, in a situation where there is no need to play left-handed, out to the side or amend the stance and the player is simply doing this so that relief could be gained from the rabbit hole, these actions would be considered “unnecessary” and relief would be denied. Again, the abnormal direction of play, stroke, stance or swing cannot be used as an excuse to get free relief.
It is worth noting that the player is only entitled to relief from the rabbit hole for the stroke that is feasible to play (e.g. the side-ways stroke away from the tree) and not from the tree itself. If interference exists and relief is warranted, the player would need to establish the nearest point of relief for the stroke that he is intending to play and drop the ball as is required in Rule 25-1b.
After taking relief, the tree may still interfere with the player's stance or swing or direction of play. Equally, once relief has been taken for the stroke, if the player is now able to play a conventional shot in the normal manner, he may do so.
Decisions 25-1b/20, 25-1b/21 and 25-1b/22 are useful in interpreting this Rule (and particularly the Exception) and can be found in our Decisions application online (www.randa.org).
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