Dear GGG: My ball’s on the cart path. What do I do?

Gail Rogers

Guidance guru Gail Rogers

Understanding Rule 24 Obstructions yields a simple process for taking relief from those modern golf course freeways, the cart paths. Gail Rogers leads the way out with concrete advice.

Q: I have been told many things about taking a proper drop from a cart path. How am I really supposed to do it?

A. When golf first began, players walked and carried their clubs. There were no cart paths. Water came from Mother Nature, not irrigation systems. Yardages were measured by the eye and experience of player and caddie, not by Kirby markers. On-course restrooms and snack bars had not yet appeared on the golf landscape. Today, however, an understanding of Rule 24 Obstructions can help every golfer.

The rule contains two parts: Movable Obstructions and Immovable Obstructions. Obstructions are manmade objects on the golf course. If they can be easily be removed — examples include water hazard stakes, an abandoned water bottle, a directional sign or bunker rake — then the player removes the movable obstruction and plays the ball as it lies. If the ball accidentally moves in this process the ball is placed back in its original position with no penalty to the player.

Immovable Obstructions are cart paths, irrigation control boxes, yardage markers and tee signs. Since these are fixed, the player has the options of playing the ball as it lies or taking relief without penalty. The player must determine the point on the course where if the ball lay at this point there would be no interference from the obstruction for the lie of the ball, the player’s stance or the area of her intended swing. This point may not be nearer the hole than the spot where the ball lies, or in a bunker or water hazard. Important: Remember that boundary fences and out of bounds stakes are themselves out of bounds by definition so are not obstructions. No free relief there. Play the ball as it lies or declare it unplayable and proceed under Rule 28.

HOW DO YOU DETERMINE THE NEAREST POINT OF RELIEF ACCURATELY FROM A CART PATH OR OTHER OBSTRUCTION? WHERE ARE YOU TO DROP YOUR BALL? FOLLOW THESE SIX SIMPLE STEPS:

  1. Select the club you would have used to make your next shot if the cart path were not there.  Normally this is just based on yardage, but the direction of play and low hanging branches of a tree might be determining factors in club selection if you had to play the ball as it now lies on the path.
  2. DO NOT PICK UP YOUR BALL until you know where you will be dropping. Playing from the cart path is a lot better than playing from an area of very high grass and rocks, which might just be where you are required to drop.
  3. Find the nearest point of relief by addressing an imaginary ball on both sides of the cart path. On one side it will be the point where you can swing the club naturally without striking the path. Put a tee in the ground at that point. On the other side of the cart path you need to get your feet off the path first, then address the imaginary ball, and where the club now touches the ground is the nearest point of relief on the second side. Place a second tee at that point.
  4. Measure the distance from your golf ball as it lies on the path to each tee. Which one is nearest the ball and not nearer the hole than where the ball lies? This is the nearest point of relief.
  5. With any club in your bag — yes, even your driver or long putter if you have one — you measure one club length not nearer the hole from the nearest point of relief. This one club length area is where you are required to drop your ball.
  6. If you like the area where you are required to drop, now is the time to lift your ball and drop it within that area. Since golf courses are not flat, the Rules do not require the ball remain within that one club length when dropped. The ball may roll up to two club-lengths from where it first strikes the course within that area as long as it is not nearer the hole.

See Rule 20-2c for the other times when you are required to re-drop the ball. Hint: Since the area where the ball is to be dropped is like a wedge of pie or even as much as a half circle, think about the best spot within the area to drop the ball, hoping for the best lie possible. Practice finding the nearest point of relief and measuring your club length. This procedure will become an automatic part of your game and allow you to proceed with confidence when you need it.

This article first appeared in the July 2011 edition of GottaGoGolf Magazine.

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