Rules Guy: Can you take embedded-ball relief from the bank of an unmarked lake?

What do the rules say about free relief around water?

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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.

In stroke play, my fellow competitor skipped his tee shot over a pond, but the ball lodged in its muddy bank, which was not staked as out of bounds. He claimed embedded-ball relief and took relief in the general area. Although I disagreed, it was getting late and I wanted to finish. What was the correct ruling?
—Larry Lohman, via email

The desire to finish a round, or simply end a disagreement without resorting to strong words or pistols at dawn, has precipitated countless bad rulings — including this one.

A body of water such as a pond is by definition a penalty area, even if it’s not staked. And when the edge is not defined by the committee in charge, it’s defined by its natural boundaries, in this case, where the ground breaks down toward the water.

golfer standing cart path
Rules Guy: Are you allowed to stand on the cart path after taking relief from it?
By: Rules Guy

So it sure sounds like that muddy bank is in the penalty area, and as such your fellow competitor wasn’t entitled to embedded ball relief, since there is no relief for other rules where the ball is in the penalty area per Rule 17.3. You can stake your reputation on that.

For more relief guidance from our guru, read on …

My ball lies in a red penalty area. It’s playable, but there’s a fence between the ball and the green. The fence is out of bounds, my ball is not. Do I get relief from an immovable obstruction? If so, must I drop within the penalty area, or just within two club-lengths of the closest point of relief?
—Gary Ahlstrom, Charlotte, NC

First things first, Gary: No, you do not get free relief from an immovable obstruction if your ball is in a penalty area, per Rule 17.3.

Further, since the fence is out of bounds, even if the ball wasn’t in a penalty area, you still wouldn’t get free relief from it. Alas, this renders your follow-up question moot, although it never hurts to ask!

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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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