Rules Guy: Can you still take relief from a stance on the cart path if your ball is in a penalty area?

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What do the rules say about taking relief from a stance on the cart path when your ball is in a penalty area?
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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.
I hit my drive into the edge of a red-staked area. There was grass between the stakes and the waterline, so I potentially had a swing — but there was a cart path next to the stakes that I would have had to stand on. Was I allowed relief from the path, or does the fact that the ball was in a penalty area negate it? —Will Marcrum, MD, Tell City, IN
Rules Guy, am I allowed to have my cake and eat it, too? You are lucky enough to have a playable shot from a penalty area, and you want relief from standing on a cart path? Would you like a mimosa, too? Some peanuts? How about a massage?
Seriously, though, Dr. Will, it never hurts to ask …. If your ball is in a penalty area, per Rule 17.3 you do not get free relief from interference by immovable obstructions such as cart paths, or any other abnormal course condition, such as ground under repair, animal holes or temporary water.
As the kids say, deal with it.
For more cart-path guidance from our guru, read on …
Is there any distinction in the Rules in terms of playing off of a paved cart path versus, say, a dirt path, or some other softer, potentially less-club-damaging material?
—John Rizzo, Staatsburg, NY
There’s an old English proverb: “Every path has its puddle.”
Rules Guy takes this to mean not only that it rains a lot in England but also that life always provides hurdles to surmount. As we all know, golf is like life. But we digress.
The rules are concerned about paths that have been artificially surfaced — pavement, gravel, potentially even sand or dirt if they were put there by someone for said purpose. In case you need reminding, as these constitute immovable obstructions you are entitled to free relief, and you can use the original ball or substitute another one. You need not scratch or ding the sole.
Contrarily, a dirt path naturally created over time by wear-and-tear from carts and walkers, for example, isn’t an immovable obstruction unless the committee declares it to be one and decides to give free relief from it.
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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. and GOLF Magazine are published by EB GOLF MEDIA LLC, a division of 8AM GOLF


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