Rules Guy: Are you entitled to free relief from the bridge over a burn?

bridge over burn

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.

Several years ago in Scotland, my ball came to rest on a wee bridge over a burn. I played a shot from the bridge as well as a provisional from behind it. Upon completing the round, we asked in the pro shop whether I had been entitled to a free drop. In a thick Scottish brogue, the reply was “If you’d nae been on the bridge, you’d have been in the burn!” Which, well, didn’t clarify matters. What is the rule? — Peter Therrien, British Columbia, Canada

Aye, laddie, the thing we can say for sure is … it depends — specifically on how the burn was marked.

Rules Guy has seen land bridges with a little tunnel underneath where the burn is marked as a separate penalty area.

Generally, though, the bridge (or at least most of it) is marked inside the penalty area, ergo the ball on the bridge is in the penalty area.

The only relief available is penalty relief, at the cost of one stroke, under Rule 17.1d. Anyway, lang may yer lum reek! (Here’s to your health.)

For more relief-related guidance from our guru, read on …

Rules Guy: Are you allowed to take free relief from the green’s collar?
By: Rules Guy

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.

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.

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

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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