Rules Guy: Can I take relief from this tricky cart path situation?

ball in bush

What are your options when you're attempting to hit a shot that's unlikely to be successful, but want relief from a cart path?

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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.

Near the green, there’s a golf cart turnaround landscaped with a bush in the center. A player in my group hit his shot into it, the ball suspended in the bush. He would have needed to stand on the cart path to try to play the shot, and he asked for free relief from the path. Not unreasonable, but there was no relief available on that side of the path — everything would have been in the planter. Also, it seemed highly unlikely he could extricate the ball playing from the bush, so I thought an unplayable with a 1-stroke penalty was the correct call, cart path or not. Do you agree? —Bob Smith, via email

This question does take us down two different paths. It’s a common local rule that a landscaped area encircled by a cart path is treated as being part of the cart path.

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If that local rule is in effect, the player is entitled to free relief from all of it, cart path and landscaped area, under Rule 16.1b: He takes one club length from the nearest point of complete relief, no closer to the hole.

If it isn’t in effect, then you indeed get into the question of whether the player could reasonably make a stroke at the ball as it lies. If not, under Rule 16.1a(3) he doesn’t get free relief just because he’s standing on a cart path — either he has to try to play the ball as it lies or take unplayable relief.

If — this is a decision tree with many branches! — it is reasonable that he can get a club on the ball and make a stroke, then he would be entitled to relief, and it’s just a matter of where is the nearest point of complete relief. In theory, that point could be within the landscaped area, because that’s not part of the cart path in this situation.

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