Here’s why pros get a free drop when they park one in the grandstands…

The Rules of Golf aren’t without their tender mercies. If an immovable obstruction – a permanent fixture such as a toilet, cartpath or irrigation box – interferes with your stance or swing, Rule 24-2b entitles you to free relief. If it’s a movable obstruction, say a hazard stake or a golf cart, Rule 24-1a permits you to relocate the offending object.

Less common – but seen on TV during pro tournaments – are temporary immovable obstructions, sometimes referred to by the acronym TIOs. They’re rare in weekend golf, but you might encounter one in a pro-am, charity tournament or a member-guest.

The best examples of TIOs are grandstands, leader boards, portable toilets, tents and refreshment tables. If a local rule is in place, and your ball is so close to a TIO that it interferes with your stance or swing, you’re entitled to free relief, just like with any other immovable obstruction. Sometimes – and this is where a TIO differs from an immovable obstruction – you can get relief if the TIO is on a direct line between your ball and the hole.

An example of this came in May at the Wells Fargo Championship. In the third round,  Martin Flores was clinging to a one-shot lead when he pushed his drive to the right on the 16th hole. His ball smacked into temporary fencing surrounding a hospitality area and came to rest directly behind it. Under a local rule used at US PGA Tour events, Flores was allowed to drop without penalty, away from the fencing that blocked his line of play to the hole. Flores hit a 9-iron to the green, made par, and went on to finish third in the tournament, his best result as a pro.

It’s important to know that TIO relief doesn’t come automatically if it blocks your line of play. Consult the head pro to see if a local rule is in place and how to proceed. Keep in mind that even if a local rule isn’t in place, you’re entitled to relief if the TIO interferes with your stance or swing.

Sticky Situations – Now what happens?

  • You’re asked to tend a flagstick for a partner who hits a putt from on the green. When you try to remove the pin, it doesn’t come out, and the ball clanks off of it, stopping a few inches from the cup. What do you do? If the person putting is your partner in four-ball matchplay, he’s disqualified from the hole, and you must go it alone. In four-ball strokeplay, your partner is penalised two shots and must play the ball from its new position.
  • What happens when your opponent asks you to tend the stick, and you can’t get it out of the cup in time so his ball hits it? By authorising you to do it, he’s responsible for making sure the pin is removed when his ball reaches the hole. He’s penalised (loss of hole).


Pop Quiz

Q: Steve and Will are new to the game and are about to play in the first round of their club’s annual matchplay tournament. Will, whose hands are trembling as fiercely as Steve’s, says, “Let’s agree to concede every putt inside three feet.” Will, exhaling deeply, says, “You took the words right out
of my mouth. Offer accepted.” Can they do this?

A: No. You can only concede your opponent’s next stroke in a match (provided the ball is at rest). You can concede a hole or match at any time before its start or conclusion. Furthermore, agreeing to waive a rule could result in disqualification from the tournament if the players were aware that they were sidestepping a rule.