Written by Joyce McCann, 18ers Rules Chair.

First published in 2017. Updated to conform to the 2019 Rules.

A basic principle of golf is that the ball is to be played as it lies. However, there are times when we find our ball in positions that seem unfair (e.g., in temporary water or ground under repair, or blocked by immovable obstructions, such as a cart path or an irrigation box. Thankfully, in those situations, the Rules grant us relief without penalty (Rule 16). Relief is taken by first finding the nearest point of complete relief no closer to the hole, and then dropping the ball within one club length of that position, also no closer to the hole. 

However, such a simple solution can become complicated, as recently illustrated by a ball coming to rest on the cart path next to the penalty area on the left side of the fairway on Dollar hole #7. In this case, the nearest point of complete relief was in the penalty area. But, the Rules have thoughtfully foreseen that possibility (Rule 16.1b), and stipulate that relief must be taken in the same area of the course where the ball lies. In this case, the ball is lying on the cart path, which is in the general area. Thus, the player, gratefully, could take relief in the fairway on the other side of the cart path, and she hit the ball up onto the apron of the green. 

The interesting thing, however, is that, had the nearest point of relief from the cart path been in the middle of a thicket or a large tree, as long as the thicket and the tree were in the general area, Rule 16.1b does not make an exception. In those cases, to get relief without penalty the player must drop the ball within one club length of the estimated position of the relief point in the middle of the large tree or the thicket, and she must then do the best she can. Without penalty, she can hit the ball off the cart path, but she may then have to buy a new club. The other two options (which are good to remember) both involve a penalty.  For one penalty stroke, she can go back and hit the ball again from where the original shot was hit (Rule 18). Or she can declare the ball unplayable from where she dropped it in free relief from the cart path, but then she has to take a penalty stroke (Rule 19).  All of these negative consequences stem simply from her ball coming to rest on a cart path, some might say through no fault of her own! So, when we aim for cart paths, of which there are many on our Rossmoor courses, be aware of the possible consequences!