by Joyce McCann, 18ers Rules Chair

In this rainy, cold season, the course is often really wet, but we all know that dedicated golfers keep playing regardless, as long as the pro shop lets us! Let’s say that you tee off on Hole #3 on the Dollar course, and you hit a high ball that slices and lands somewhere on the right side of the fairway in the rough, but you’re not sure where. You search, and see a ball that appears to be embedded (i.e., in its own pitch mark and partly below the surface). But, you don’t know if it’s your ball, and you pick it up to identify it. Under the old Rules, you will have to take a 1-stroke penalty for not announcing to your fellow players ahead of time that you’re going to pick it up. But, under the new Rules, you don’t have to announce ahead of time (but you do still need to mark it before you pick it up) (Rule 7.3).

Also, because the ball is embedded in the rough and not in a “closely mown area”, under the old rules you could not get free relief. You could not clean the ball and had to replace it in its embedded position, leaving you with a very difficult shot. Under the new rules (Rule 16.3), you get free relief from a ball embedded  in the rough. The method of taking free relief from an embedded ball has changed somewhat. The old rules required that you drop the ball “as near as possible” to the spot where it was embedded. Under the new rules (Rule 16.3b), the procedure is more precise. You first determine a reference point, which, in this case, is directly behind where the ball was embedded. You then measure a 1-driver length relief area no nearer the hole from the reference point. And finally, you drop the ball from knee height in the relief area.

After you take relief from the embedded ball, you can’t aim your next shot at the green because it is blocked by the trees. So, you try to carve a fade around the trees, but instead your ball goes dead straight and hits the protective fence guarding players on the 4th tee from shots like this one. The ball drops straight down. A protective fence is an immovable obstruction. Under both the old and new rules you can take free relief. Under the old rules, you would first find the “nearest point of complete relief” from the obstruction, and then you would drop the ball from shoulder height within 1-club length, using the club you planned for your next shot. Under the new rules (Rule 16.1b), the reference point is the nearest point of complete relief, and you  drop the ball from knee height no nearer the hole within a one driver-length relief area measured from the reference point.

Since the fence protecting the hole #4 tee box is located next to a severe downhill, when you drop your ball it may roll down the hill (though in this weather it may embed instead!). Under the old rules, as long as the ball stopped within 2-club lengths from where you first dropped it, it would have been a fair drop and the ball could be played; otherwise you would have to re-drop. However, under the new rules, the dropped ball must not only first strike the course within the 1-driver length relief area, but the dropped ball must also come to rest within the relief area. Otherwise, it will have to be re-dropped. If it rolls out of the relief area a second time, it will have to be placed on the spot it first hit within the relief area (Rule 14.3c).

So, in this example, under the old rules, you would have gotten a penalty stroke for not announcing that you were going to pick up the embedded ball to identify it, you would also not have been able to clean it, and would have had to replace and play it from its embedded position. Under the new Rules, you can clean it and take free relief, giving you a much better chance of putting the ball back into play. Also illustrated here are the new concepts of “reference point” and “relief area” in connection with taking relief. Note that the reference point was different in the 2 cases in this example –  directly behind the place where the ball was embedded, or at the nearest point of complete relief (ball, stance, swing) from the protective fence. Under the new rules, In all instances of taking free or penalty relief, the first step is to determine the reference point, which can vary depending on the situation.