Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ask Linda #249-Relief from raised cart path

Hi Linda,

I was caddying for my son at a tournament recently and one of his playing competitors hit his drive and it finished under a raised wooden part of the cart path. The cart path was paved until it came to a low area of pine straw and rougher, lower terrain...thus the raised wooden section of the cart path which probably ran for no more than 40 or 50 feet. It was not over a water hazard, lateral or regular, so neither his ball nor the cart path were in or above a water hazard. I had never actually encountered this situation, and no one in the group of four players had encountered this. There was confusion about how to proceed and the player eventually took an unplayable at the insistence of another player's caddy father who unfortunately just stated his strong opinion and left the scene, unwilling to discuss that this might be something other than an unplayable lie. My view was that this was an immovable obstruction to which free relief should have been granted. The raised cart path prevented the player from attempting any sort of swing at his ball, and he could have reasonably taken such a swing and advanced his ball toward the hole were if not for the cart path. I suggested he mention this to the committee rep. for the tournament before signing his card. He did; the rep didn't know how this should be ruled and agreed to look into it before issuing his decision. The next morning, I ran into the player in the parking lot and he said they had ruled it was indeed to be considered unplayable and the penalty shot applied.

Based on what I've read in the rulebook, this doesn't seem right. So my question is, should he have been penalized a stroke and proceeded as though the ball was unplayable? Or, was he actually entitled to relief from the "raised wooden cart path" under which his ball came to rest? I haven't been able to find anything on-line that describes this situation and discusses how one should proceed. What is the proper ruling in this case?
Thank you...Lou Lou.

Dear Lou Lou,

From your narrative, it would seem that the player was unfairly penalized. The cart path, by definition, is an immovable obstruction. When an immovable obstruction interferes with a player’s swing, he is entitled to free relief [Rule 24-2a]. The player is permitted to lift the ball and drop it within one club-length of the nearest point of relief that is no closer to the hole.

It appears to me that the situation was confusing because the ball was under a cart path, which is not a common occurrence. However, that does not negate the fact that the cart path is still an immovable obstruction, and that it is interfering with the player’s swing. If the player’s ball had settled under a bench, would there have been any question as to whether he was entitled to free relief?

Let’s look briefly at the rule that addresses this problem, Rule 24-2a. This rule tells us that “interference by an immovable obstruction occurs when a ball lies in or on the obstruction, or when the obstruction interferes with the player’s stance or the area of his intended swing.” The player’s ball in your question was not in the obstruction, nor was it on the obstruction. However, the obstruction interfered with his swing. As such, he was entitled to free relief from an immovable obstruction.

In the future, should you ask for a ruling and the Committee does not know the answer, consider asking the Committee to discuss the situation with the Rules of Golf Committee of the USGA before making a ruling. Rule 34-3 allows a player to make such a request.

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