Rules Guy: Can you take free relief if your ball is at rest on top of another ball?

ball in grass

The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

My drive ended up in a pine straw mulch area. When I got to the ball, I found it sitting atop another ball that was clearly plugged. Do I get relief, and if so, what exactly? — John Andrako, Richmond, Va.

John, an abandoned ball is a movable obstruction.

As such, according to Rule 15.2a(2), if your ball is directly on top of it and not lying on anything else, you take relief by lifting the ball, removing the movable obstruction, and dropping your ball within one club-length of the spot directly underneath where the ball originally lay on top of the obstruction (no nearer the hole in the same part of the course).

More likely, however, your ball is also touching another part of the course. If so, relief is to remove the abandoned ball, and when your ball inevitably moves, replace it, again under Rule 15.2a.

Rules Guy: Can I move an object like a rake if it causes my ball to move?
By: Rules Guy

For more relief guidance from our guru, read on …

My partner’s ball lands outside the bunker on the edge of the lip of a trap. He walks into the trap without a club to assess his lie. While in the trap, the ball moves and rolls into the bunker. Does he play the ball without penalty as it now lies in the bunker; play it as it lies with a one-stroke penalty for causing the ball to move, or replace the ball in its original position without penalty? — Andy Loesberg, via email 

The answer: It depends.

The standard for considering the player to be the cause of a ball’s movement is “known or virtually certain.” That’s, like, 95 percent or more for any math types out there.

This case doesn’t sound like it reaches that threshold, in which case natural forces become the cause of the ball having moved. So, under Rule 9.3, your partner plays from the new spot in the bunker.

Need help unriddling the greens at your home course? Pick up a custom Green Book from 8AM Golf affiliate Golf Logix.

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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