Know the Rules: Nearest Point of Relief

Perhaps the primary rule of golf is to play the ball as it lies. There are several circumstances, however, under which a player may lift the ball and drop it elsewhere to get relief from certain conditions.

Relief is often based on finding a reference point called the nearest point of relief, which is defined in the Definitions section. It is the spot nearest to where the ball lies, and not nearer to the hole, from where a player can make the stroke the player would have made from the original position had the interference from which relief is being sought not been present.

In finding this point, the player must simulate the address position and stroke, with the same club, and swing in the same direction, as if the interference from which the player is taking relief were not present. For example, if a player would have made a right-handed stroke with a 4-iron toward the green were the condition not there, that is the stroke he must simulate to find the nearest point of relief. The nearest point of relief from a particular spot might be different for a right- and left-handed golfer.

Determining the nearest point of relief can get tricky. If it appears that the nearest point of relief is an unplayable lie, such as tall grass, this does not change where the nearest point of relief is. In this case, the player might choose not to take relief and to play the ball instead from where it lies.

After finding the nearest point of relief, the player must hit the ball in the same direction that was used to find that point.

If playing from the nearest point of relief means a club different from the one used to determine the nearest point of relief is now a better choice, the player may use the different club.

It is possible that the nearest point of relief is inside an object, like a tree trunk, or cannot be physically determined because a barrier prevents taking an address position. In these cases, the player must estimate where that point would be if those complications were not there.

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