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16
Relief from Abnormal Course Conditions (Including Immovable Obstructions), Dangerous Animal Condition, Embedded Ball
Purpose: Rule 16 covers when and how the player may take free relief by playing a ball from a different place, such as when there is interference by an abnormal course condition or a dangerous animal condition.
  • These conditions are not treated as part of the challenge of playing the course, and free relief is generally allowed except in a penalty area.
  • The player normally takes relief by dropping a ball in a relief area based on the nearest point of complete relief.
This Rule also covers free relief when a player’s ball is embedded in its own pitch mark in the general area.
16
Relief from Abnormal Course Conditions (Including Immovable Obstructions), Dangerous Animal Condition, Embedded Ball
16.1

Abnormal Course Conditions (Including Immovable Obstructions)

16.1a(3)/1
Obstruction Interfering with Abnormal Stroke May Not Preclude Player From Taking Relief
In some situations a player may have to adopt an abnormal swing, stance or direction of play in playing his or her ball to accommodate a given situation. If the abnormal stroke is not clearly unreasonable given the circumstances, the player is permitted to take free relief under Rule 16.1. For example, in the general area, a right-handed player's ball is so close to a boundary object on the left side of a hole that he or she must make a left-handed swing to play towards the hole. In making the left-handed swing, the player's stance is interfered with by an immovable obstruction. The player is allowed relief from the immovable obstruction since use of a left-handed swing is not clearly unreasonable in the circumstances. After the relief procedure for the left-handed swing is complete, the player may then use a normal right-handed swing for the next stroke. If the obstruction interferes with the right-handed swing, the player may take relief for the right-handed swing under Rule 16.1b or play the ball as it lies.
16.1a(3)/2
Player May Not Use Clearly Unreasonable Stroke to Get Relief from Condition
A player may not use a clearly unreasonably stroke to get relief from an abnormal ground condition. If the player's stroke is clearly unreasonable given the circumstances, relief under Rule 16.1 is not allowed, and he or she must either play the ball as it lies or take unplayable ball relief. For example, in the general area, a right-handed player's ball is in a bad lie. A nearby immovable obstruction would not interfere with the player's normal right-handed stroke, but would interfere with a left-handed stroke. The player states that he or she is going to make the next stroke left-handed and believes that, since the obstruction would interfere with such a stroke, Rule 16.1b allows relief. However, since the only reason for the player to use a left-handed stroke is to escape a bad lie by taking relief, use of the left-handed stroke is clearly unreasonable and the player is not allowed to take relief under Rule 16.1b (Rule 16.1a(3)). The same principles would apply to the use of a clearly unreasonable stance, direction of play or the choice of a club.
16.1a(3)/3
Application of Rule 16 .1a(3) When Ball Lies Underground in Animal Hole
In deciding whether relief should be denied under Rule 16.1a(3) for a ball lying underground in an animal hole, the decision is made based on the lie the ball would have at the entrance to the hole as opposed to the ball's position underground in the hole. For example, in the general area, a player's ball comes to rest underground in a hole made by an animal. A large bush is immediately next to and overhanging the entrance to the animal hole. The nature of the area at the entrance of the animal hole is such that, if the animal hole was not there, it would be clearly unreasonable for the player to make a stroke at the ball (because of the overhanging bush). In such a situation, the player is not allowed to take relief under Rule 16.1b. The player must play the ball as it lies or proceed under Rule 19 (Ball Unplayable). If the ball lies in an animal hole but is not underground, the spot of the ball is used to determine whether it is clearly unreasonable to play the ball and if Rule 16.1a(3) applies. If Rule 16.1a(3) does not apply, the player is allowed relief without penalty under Rule 16.1b. The same principles would apply to a ball that is underground in an immovable obstruction.
16.1a(3)/C1
Clarification: Meaning of “Clearly Unreasonable to Play Ball” When Deciding If Relief Is Allowed
The purpose of Rule 16.1a(3) is to prevent a player from obtaining free relief when it is clearly unreasonable for him or her to make a stroke because of interference by something from which free relief is not available. But it does not apply, for example, if a player’s ball is embedded in the general area and he or she is standing on an immovable obstruction. In this case, the player may take relief from either condition unless relief is unreasonable because of something other than either condition. (Clarification added 12/2018)
16.1b/1
Relief Procedure When Ball Lies in Underground Abnormal Course Condition
When a ball enters an abnormal course condition and comes to rest underground (and Rule 16.1a(3) does not apply), the relief procedure that applies depends on whether the ball lies in the general area (Rule 16.1b), in a bunker (Rule 16.1c), in a penalty area (Rule 17.1c) or out of bounds (Rule 18.2b). Examples of whether relief is available and how to take relief are as follows:
  • A ball enters an animal hole through an entrance that is in a greenside bunker and is found at rest underneath the putting green. As the ball is not in the bunker or on the putting green, relief is taken under Rule 16.1b for a ball in the general area. The spot where the ball lies in the animal hole is used to determine the nearest point of complete relief and the relief area must be in the general area.
  • A ball enters an animal hole through an entrance that is in a spot that is out of bounds. Part of the hole is in bounds and in the general area. The ball is found at rest in bounds, underground and in the general area. Relief is taken under Rule 16.1b for a ball in the general area. The spot where the ball lies in the animal hole is used to determine the nearest point of complete relief and the relief area must be in the general area.
  • A ball enters an animal hole through an entrance that is in the general area but only about a foot from a boundary fence. The animal hole slopes steeply down below the fence, so that the ball is found at rest beyond the boundary line. Since the ball lies out of bounds, the player must take stroke-and-distance relief by adding one penalty stroke and play a ball from where the previous stroke was made (Rule 18.2b).
  • A ball might have entered an animal hole through an entrance that is in the general area but it is not known or virtually certain that the ball that has not been found is in the abnormal course condition. In this situation, the ball is lost and the player must take stroke-and-distance relief by adding one penalty stroke and play a ball from where the previous stroke was made (Rule 18.2b).
16.1c(2)/C1
Clarification: Reference Point and Relief Area for Back-On-the-Line Relief Must Be Outside Bunker
When taking back-on-the-line relief from an abnormal course condition under Rule 16.1c(2), both the reference point and relief area must be outside the bunker in which the original ball came to rest. (Clarification added 1/2021)
16.1c/1
Player Takes Maximum Available Relief; Then Decides to Take Back-On-the-Line Relief
If the player takes maximum available relief, he or she will still have interference from the abnormal course condition and may take further relief by using the back-on-the-line procedure for one penalty stroke. If the player decides to do this, the reference point for back-on-the-line relief is where the ball came to rest after taking maximum available relief.
16.1c/2
After Lifting Ball Player May Change Relief Options Before Putting a Ball in Play
If a player lifts his or her ball to take relief under Rule 16.1c, he or she is not committed to the intended relief option under Rule 16.1c until the original ball is put in play or another ball is substituted under that option. For example, a player elects to take relief from temporary water in a bunker and lifts the ball with the intention of taking free relief in the bunker (Rule 16.1c(1)). The player then realizes that where the Rule requires the ball to be dropped in the bunker will result in a very difficult shot. After lifting the ball, but prior to putting a ball in play, the player may choose either of the two options of the Rule despite the original intention to take relief under Rule 16.1c(1).
16.1/1
Relief from Abnormal Course Condition May Result in Better or Worse Conditions
If a player receives a better lie, area of intended swing or line of play in taking relief under Rule 16.1, this is the player's good fortune. There is nothing in Rule 16.1 that requires him or her to maintain identical conditions after relief is taken. For example, in taking relief from a sprinkler head (immovable obstruction) in the rough, the player's nearest point of complete relief or relief area may be located in the fairway. If this results in the player being able to drop a ball in the fairway, this is allowed. In some situations, the conditions may be less advantageous to the player after relief is taken as compared with the conditions before relief is taken, such as when the nearest point of complete relief or relief area is in an area of rocks.
16.1/2
If Interference by Second Abnormal Course Condition Exists after Complete Relief Taken from First Condition, Further Relief May Be Taken
If a player has interference by a second abnormal course condition after taking complete relief from an abnormal course condition, the second situation is a new situation and the player may again take relief under Rule 16.1. For example, in the general area, there are two areas of temporary water that are close together and the player has interference by one area but not the other. The player takes relief under Rule 16.1 and the ball comes to rest within the relief area at a spot where there is no longer interference by the first area of temporary water, but there is interference by the second area. The player may play the ball as it lies or take relief from the second area under Rule 16.1. The same outcome applies if there is interference by any other abnormal course condition.
16.1/3
Player May Choose to Take Relief from Either Condition When Interference by Two Conditions Exists
There are situations where a player may have interference by two conditions at the same time and, in those situations, the player may choose to take relief from either condition. If, after taking relief from one condition, interference by the second condition exists, the player may then take relief from the second condition. Some examples of this include when:
  • In the general area, an immovable obstruction interferes with the area of the player's intended swing and the ball lies within an area defined as ground under repair. The player may first take relief from the obstruction under Rule 16.1, drop the ball in the ground under repair if this is part of the relief area, and then have the option of playing the ball as it lies in the ground under repair or taking relief under Rule 16.1b. Conversely, the player may take relief from the ground under repair and, if there is still interference by the obstruction, take relief from the obstruction.
  • A player's ball is embedded in the general area in ground under repair. The player has the option of taking relief under Rule 16.1 for interference by the ground under repair or under Rule 16.3 for the embedded ball.
However, in such situations, the player may not, in a single procedure, concurrently take relief from two conditions by dropping a ball in a single relief area determined by a combined nearest point of complete relief from both conditions, except in the situation where the player has successively taken relief for interference from each condition and is essentially back where the player started.
16.1/4
How to Take Relief When Ball Lies on Elevated Part of Immovable Obstruction
When a ball lies on an elevated part of an immovable obstruction, the nearest point of complete relief is on the ground under the obstruction. This is to make it easier to establish the nearest point of complete relief and to avoid it from being located on the branch of a nearby tree. For example, a ball comes to rest in the general area on the elevated part of an immovable obstruction, such as a walkway or bridge over a deep hollow. If the player elects to take relief in this situation, vertical distance is disregarded, and the nearest point of complete relief is the point (Point X) on the ground directly beneath where the ball lies on the obstruction, provided that the player does not have interference, as defined in Rule 16.1a, at this point. The player may take relief under Rule 16.1b by dropping a ball within the relief area determined using Point X as the reference point. If there is interference from some part of the obstruction (such as a supporting column) for a ball located at Point X, the player may then take relief under Rule 16.1b by using Point X as the spot of the ball for purposes of finding the nearest point of complete relief. See Interpretation 16.1/5 for when a ball lies underground and has interference from an immovable obstruction.
16.1/5
How to Measure Nearest Point of Complete Relief When Ball Underground in Abnormal Course Condition
The procedure when a ball lies underground in an abnormal course condition (such as a tunnel) is different from when it is elevated. In such a case, determining the nearest point of complete relief must account for vertical and horizontal distance. In some cases, the nearest point of complete relief could be at the entrance to the tunnel, and in other cases it could be on the ground directly above where the ball lies in the tunnel. See Interpretation 16.1/4 for when a ball lies on elevated part of an immovable obstruction.
16.1/6
Player May Wait to Determine Nearest Point of Complete Relief When Ball Is Moving in Water
When a ball is moving in temporary water, whether a player chooses to lift the moving ball or substitute another ball in taking relief under Rule 16.1, the player is allowed to let the ball move to a better spot before determining the nearest point of complete relief so long as he or she does not unreasonably delay play (Exception 3 to Rule 10.1d and Rule 5.6a). For example, a player's ball is moving in temporary water across the fairway. The player arrives at the ball when it is at Point A and realizes that when it gets to Point B, which is five yards away, his or her nearest point of complete relief will be in a much better spot than would be the case if relief is taken from Point A. So long as the player does not unreasonably delay play (Rule 5.6a), he or she is allowed to delay starting the relief procedure until the ball reaches Point B.
16.2

Dangerous Animal Condition

16.2a/1
No Free Relief from Dangerous Course Condition
If a player's ball comes to rest in a spot where the player has interference from a plant or bush that could cause physical harm, such as poison ivy or a cactus, while the player may be faced with challenging circumstances or may be allergic to a given plant, he or she is not entitled to free relief under the Rules.
16.3

Embedded Ball

16.3a(2)/1
Concluding Whether Ball Is Embedded in Its Own Pitch-mark
It must be reasonable to conclude that the ball is in its own pitch-mark for the player to take relief under Rule 16.3b. An example of when it is reasonable to conclude that the ball came to rest in its own pitch-mark is when a player's approach shot lands on soft ground just short of the putting green in the general area. The player sees the ball bounce forward and then spin back. When the player arrives at the ball, he or she sees that it is embedded in the only pitch-mark in the area. Since it is reasonable to conclude that the ball spun back into its own pitch-mark, the player may take relief under Rule 16.3b. However, if a player's tee shot lands in the fairway and the ball bounces over a hill to a position where it could not be seen from the tee but is found in a pitch-mark, it is not reasonable to conclude that the ball is embedded in its own pitch-mark and the player is not allowed to take relief under Rule 16.3b.
16.3b/C1
Clarification: Player Not Always Allowed to Take Embedded Ball Relief
If a player’s ball is embedded in the general area but neither the reference point nor any part of the course within one club-length of the reference point is in the general area, the player is not allowed to take free relief under Rule 16.3b. For example, free relief is not allowed if: 
  • a ball is embedded at the very base of the lip, wall or face above a bunker,
  • the spot right behind the ball is in the bunker and
  • within one club-length of and not nearer the hole from that reference point, there is no part of the relief area that is in the general area.
(Clarification added 12/2018)
16.4
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