Congratulations! From the moment you smother-hooked that tee shot, your ball seemed destined to land out-of-bounds. But you caught a break, a tree branch deflected it straight down and, it’s a miracle, but you’re still in play! (Clean living, right?) One small problem, however. Those white stakes that define the course’s boundaries? One of them is right next to your ball and no matter how you try to play your next shot, that sucker is in the way.
The logical question is: can you move it? After all, you’re in play, and maybe this is one of those moveable obstruction situations. Maybe? Bzzzzzzzt. Wrong. While you can move a stake that defines a penalty area if it interferes with your ball, stance or swing (Rule 15.2a), OB stakes – and any physical elements that define a course’s boundary – are more sacred. Not only can’t you move these things; free relief is also not allowed (Definitions: Boundary Objects).
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If you got a little ahead of yourself and did happen to move one of those stakes, it’s a two-stroke penalty or loss of hole (matchplay) under Rule 8.1a for improving conditions affecting a stroke. However, you can avoid the penalty by putting the stake back exactly as you found it before you play your next stroke. The Rules of Golf calls this “restoring the original conditions”.
So what are your options when a stake, wall and/or fence that is a boundary object interferes with your next stroke? There are a few: the first is to play the ball as it lies. You can hit the stake and let it carom into your ball, hopefully knocking the ball into a better spot on the course. You can even stand outside the course and give the OB fence a whack if you think it can move your ball. Bad for your club, but completely legal (Rule 18.2a(2)).
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Your other options would be to follow the rules for an unplayable lie (Rule 19) or stroke-and-distance penalty relief (Rule 18), adding one penalty stroke. Yeah, you got lucky that the ball didn’t go OB. But the golf gods aren’t always completely forgiving.
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