This edition’s Rules Reader’s feature comes from Julie Currie from Cleobury Mortimer Golf Club who asks: “On our course we have a number of different types of bridges crossing over our water hazards ranging from wooden sleepers, to concrete and stone walled paths, some of which have an AstroTurf covering. Are these bridges classed as immovable obstructions, and if so, do I get relief from them?”
Bridges and similar constructions are very common on golf courses around the world. For example, at the Old Course in St Andrews, there are some wooden bridges with matting at the 1st hole as well as the iconic Swilcan Bridge on the 18th. Many famous players and countless amateur golfers have stridden over the historic stone-made overpass as they finish their round at the home of golf. By definition they are ‘Immovable Obstructions’, however, relief from such obstructions under Rule 24-2b is not an available option when a player’s ball is in a water hazard or a lateral water hazard.
The definition of a ‘Water Hazard’ states that the margin of the hazard extends both vertically upwards and downwards, meaning that anything above the water hazard within these margins is considered to be in the hazard. Therefore, even if a bridge over a water hazard is classified as an immovable obstruction, a player is not entitled to relief from the bridge if their ball lies within the margins of the hazard. Instead, they would have the option of either playing the ball as it lies, or proceeding under the options provided under Rule 26-1 under penalty of one stroke.
If there is interference to the player’s stance or area of intended swing, and the ball lies outside the margins of the hazard and the immovable obstruction, i.e. the bridge lies in the water hazard, a player may take relief under Rule 24-2. Similarly if the section of the obstruction interfering is outside the margins of the hazard, relief under this Rule is also available to the player. Therefore, the key to relief is the position of the ball not the position of the bridge.
Playing a ball from a bridge crossing a hazard, although not ideal, may not, be as daunting as originally thought. This is because the common misconception that you can not ground your club when your ball lies on a bridge over a water hazard is incorrect.
As a result, if choosing to play the ball as it lies, it is worth noting that a player may ground their club on the bridge and also touch any obstruction such as a railing or wall during their backswing without penalty. This applies even if the bridge has been declared an integral part of the course.
Of course, for the avoidance of confusion to players, it is important that the Committee marks any Water Hazard correctly. For example, if the hazard is defined by stakes, the stakes are inside the Water Hazard, and the margin of the hazard is defined by the nearest outside points of the stakes at ground level. These stakes are classified as obstructions and are generally ‘movable’ which means they can be moved without penalty prior to playing a shot.
If a Committee needs advice on how to mark and define their golf course, please see the Guidance on Running a Competition manual.
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