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Rules Corner: What is opposite-side relief? Here’s why it matters

February 20, 2020

If you’ve ever played a course that has a hole with a red-staked penalty area that splits the fairway in two, knowing your options when it comes to utilizing potential opposite-side relief can make a big difference in your score.

What is opposite-side relief? It’s a local rule that gives players a choice of sides in which to take relief when a ball is hit into a red penalty area.

Generally, when a player hits a ball into a red penalty area, he or she has three options for relief, all of which cost one penalty stroke:

-Stroke-and-distance relief, in which the player can replay his or her shot from the original spot where the previous stroke was made;

-Back-on-the-line relief, in which the player notes the reference point of where the ball entered the penalty area, goes back on a line that extends straight back from the hole, and drops a ball within two clublengths of that spot; and

-Lateral relief, in which the player identifies the spot where the ball last crossed the penalty area and drops a ball within two clublengths of that spot, no closer to the hole.

Now, here’s the difference-maker: When opposite-side relief is in effect as a local rule, you are are also allowed to go to the other side of a red penalty area from where the ball last entered, the same distance from the hole, and drop within two clublengths of that spot, no closer to the hole. This option can really come in handy, especially if there’s an obstruction that prevents a player from having a clear shot to the green on one side of the penalty area, but not on the other (see example in featured video above).

So remember: the next time you play a new golf course for the first time, check those local rules! You may save yourself a stroke or two by using them to your advantage — especially when it comes to opposite-side relief.

Phil Mickelson explains how to hit it perfectly from the cart path every time
Do you know the difference between an integral object and an immovable obstruction?
Is it permissible to check a bunker’s depth with a tee?
Are you entitled to free relief from a sandy cart path?

Looking for more information on the Rules of Golf? Visit usga.org/rules, or, if you have a question of your own, you can submit it to Rules Guy, our resident expert, at rulesguy@golf.com. The answer may be featured in an upcoming issue of GOLF Magazine.

Have you seen our new “Subpar” series? Check out the second installment featuring Gary Woodland below!