Rules Guy: Are you entitled to free relief from an immovable obstruction in your line of sight?

golfer behind tree

If you take-line-of-sight relief, can your opponent limit the type of shot you can play?

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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 a tournament, I found myself in the left trees on a par 5. In my line of play (though not impacting my swing) was a metal plaque the size of loose-leaf paper on an immovable four-foot-tall post. My opponent allowed me a drop to the nearest point no closer to the hole that would take the plaque out of my line of play and sight … but he added that I needed to hit the same shot I’d planned prior to the drop. I thought after getting relief I could choose whatever shot I wanted, even if, due to a better window, it meant a full 3-wood instead of a punch-out. Who was correct? Or were we both wrong?
—Drew Haley, Bethesda, Md.

If your opponent told you to take a free drop off the Brooklyn Bridge …. You were indeed both wrong, because you weren’t entitled to free relief, as the immovable obstruction interfered only with your line of sight, not your swing, lie or stance.

divot on ball
Rules Guy: Can you take free relief from the sod of your own divot?
By: Rules Guy

The question becomes whether this was match play or stroke play (in which case you meant “fellow competitor,” not “opponent”).

In match play, you’re off the hook because, per Rule 20.1(b)1, if a player and opponent agree to a procedure, correct or incorrect, it stands, as long as they’re not knowingly waiving a Rule. In stroke play, you breached Rule 9.4 and get the penalty of two strokes for playing from the wrong place.

Oh, and if a competitor ever tries to tell you what kind of shot to play, tell him to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.

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