Thursday, January 29, 2015
In my game today I put my tee shot near a plover that was nesting–the birds were screeching and flying in, trying to attack my partners who were trying to scare the bird away so that I might take my shot.
I couldn't get into position because every time I addressed the ball the birds came at us, protecting their nest. Eventually three players all waved and shouted just long enough for me to duff my next shot into the bunker.
Would I have been entitled to relief of any sort? The birds were clearly in distress, and to be honest I was concerned not only for the birds but all of us as well.
Lou from Sydney, Australia
Players are entitled to free relief from dangerous situations. However, “dangerous,” under the Rules of Golf, is defined as poisonous or life-threatening. Rattlesnakes and bees’ nests would be considered dangerous; poison ivy and cacti would not.
I received a similar question about nesting geese in January of 2011 (Ask Linda #275). Geese are much larger than plovers, and while they do not have talons, they have strong beaks and will fight to protect their young. I consulted the USGA, and was told that the USGA does not consider geese to be dangerous, as they are neither poisonous nor life-threatening. I suspect the ruling would be the same for plovers – the birds are only 6–8 inches long (15–19 cm). Accordingly, if the player chooses not to play his ball he must take his one-stroke penalty and use one of the relief options in Rule 26 (Water Hazards) or Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable) [Decision 1-4/11].
However, I believe you can approach the nesting plover problem from another angle. According to Wikipedia, “human disturbances can cause the abandonment of nests and chicks. It is best to stay away from any bird that appears distressed to prevent any unintended consequences.” Plovers are also an endangered species in the U.S. (not sure about Australia). If you consult the R&A, you might find that they permit a Local Rule to allow free relief from nesting plovers. What player would want to be responsible for causing parents to abandon their chicks?
If a Local Rule providing free relief is in effect, the relief procedure is basically the same as for a ball in abnormal ground conditions (see Rule 25-1b). The procedure is specifically spelled out in Decision 1-4/10. Here is a link to that Decision: http://www.usga.org/Rule-Books/Rules-of-Golf/Decision-01/#d1-4-10.
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