Rules school: What do you do if your ball ends up in an abnormal course condition?

Your relief options for an abnormal course condition varies based on where on the course your ball ends up.

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With golf being an outdoor sport, sometimes the conditions won’t be perfect — even if you stripe it right down the fairway. For example, your ball might find a puddle from a recent storm or a hole from a burrowing animal. And although the Rules of Golf say to “play the ball as it lies,” you actually are afforded relief from these odd circumstances.

Under Rule 16, golfers are entitled to free relief when “your ball touches or is in or on an abnormal course condition, an abnormal course condition physically interferes with your area of intended stance or area of intended swing, or when your ball is on the putting green, an abnormal course condition on or off the putting green intervenes on your line of play.” However, the relief options vary based on where your ball is on the course.

General area

Drop within one club length of the nearest point of relief, no nearer to the hole



Drop within one club length of the nearest point of the relief in the bunker, no nearer to the hole. OR drop within one club length of the nearest point of relief outside the bunker for a one-stroke penalty.


Putting green

If your ball is in an abnormal course condition or an abnormal course condition interferes with your line of play, place your ball at the nearest point of complete relief on the putting green or the general area.

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Zephyr Melton Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at