[PHOTO: David Cannon]

Your approach shot bounces off a firm green and rolls off, stopping in deep rough. The only option for your next play would be some kind of flop shot. To execute a flop, you’d have to set up in a wide, low stance, open the face fully on your 60-degree wedge and make a big hacking swing hoping for the best. On a good day, you might pull this shot off once or twice from a full bag of practice balls.

But wait! Before you grab your lob wedge, you notice that your ball is close enough to a sprinkler head that, if you narrow your stance the way you would for a standard chip shot, your toes would be touching the plastic cover. Rule 16.1 allows you to take free relief if your ball, stance or swing is interfered with by the sprinkler head (which is considered an immovable obstruction). Knowing this rule can help get your ball into a better lie, you announce that in setting up for a chip shot, you’re stepping on the sprinkler head and want to take relief.

Question: Is this legal?

Answer: Nope.

Here’s why: the definition in the Rules of Golf for “stance” is the position of your feet and body when preparing for and making a stroke. In your case, your wider flop-shot stance is not interfered with by the sprinkler head. It would be futile to hit a standard chip or even putt from this lie, so arguing that you intended to try is not a grey-area matter.

In fact, a clarification in the Rules (16.1a(3)/2) explains this in detail.

A player may not use a clearly unreasonable stroke to get relief from an abnormal course condition (an immovable obstruction is considered an abnormal course condition). If the player’s stroke is clearly unreasonable given the circumstances, relief under 16.1 is not allowed. The same principle applies to the use of a clearly unreasonable stance, direction of play or the choice of a club.

The message here is to be prepared to defend your intended choice of club, stance or swing when trying to take relief from a drain, sprinkler head or any artificial objects such as cartpaths, irrigational control boxes, etc.


I took a drop the old way from shoulder height. Is that a penalty now?

My ball is just outside a ‘no-play zone’. Can I stand in it to hit my shot?

How can I possibly know ‘exactly’ where my ball crossed into a penalty area?

I know I saw his golf ball move when he removed that pine straw. Why wasn’t he penalised?

How you can drop your ball in the fairway after hitting it OB (and it’s perfectly legal)

Can you pass our 10-question rules quiz?

I’m hitting a 6-iron on a par 3. Can I use my driver to measure the teeing area?

Here’s a crafty (but legal) way to take relief and get your ball into a much better lie

What’s it called now? A quick refresher in rules terminology

When taking relief, when do I drop the ball and when should I place it?

My opponent is acting like a tool. Do the rules say anything about unsportsmanlike conduct?

Can I clean mud off my ball while playing a hole?

My ball’s in the water, and it’s on the move! What are my options?

My opponent looks like he’s whipper-snippering as he searches for a lost ball. When is that a penalty?

My ball is in bounds but an OB stake is interfering with my shot. Can I move the stake?

Can I be penalised for delaying play if I stop to get a hotdog or a drink?

When am I allowed to substitute a golf ball on the course?

I stopped my swing before hitting the ball. Does that count as a stroke?

I hit myself with my own ball. Embarrassment aside, is that a penalty?

What happens in a match when no one knows how to apply a rule?

My opponent stopped my ball from rolling on purpose. Is that a penalty?

While waiting to play a shot, my opponent is killing time by chipping a ball. Is this allowed?

My ball is in a penalty area, so what are my options for taking a drop?

Can I be penalised if someone else improves my lie?

Can you repair divot holes or pitch marks in your line before hitting a shot?

I just played the wrong ball. What do I do now?

What do I do if my ball just hit another ball on the green?

What do you do when the tee markers aren’t lined up or are missing?

Somebody just picked up my golf ball! Now what?

Crazy things that only happen in matchplay

Can you hit a provisional ball after hitting a shot into a penalty area?

Your club breaks, what are your options?

My opponent took a generous drop after hitting into a penalty area. Can he be DQ’d for that?

Can I use a long putter when measuring my relief area?

Our practice putting green sucks. Can I hit a few putts on the course before my round?

I had an extra club in my bag and I just teed off. Now what?

Can I move a stone if it improves my lie?

Are you smart enough to ace this basic rules quiz?

Do I get relief from aeration holes?

What does ‘known or virtually certain’ really mean?

Do you have to use a putter on the green?

You’re playing a Srixon. Two holes later it’s a Callaway. Is switching golf balls mid-round allowed?

I hit a horrible shot. I’m waaaaaay better off if I don’t find the ball. Can I just declare it lost?

I’m on the green, my opponent is not. Who’s away?

Is sneaking a peek in another player’s bag considered getting advice?

What do I do if my golf ball is stuck in a tree?

I conceded a putt. My opponent putted anyway and missed. Is that a penalty?

What is casual water and how do I play around it?

I thought my ball was lost and put another in play then found my first ball… which ball counts?

What happens if I can’t tell my provisional ball from my original?

What exactly is an embedded ball?

How do I find my ‘nearest point of relief’?

How long can I take to hit a shot?

Does a ball have to be unplayable to declare it unplayable?