This rule is pretty straight forward. Say that you hit an approach shot just a few feet off the green. As you approach your ball, you realize that your normal play (putting) would be a problem because you have a sprinkler head on your intended line of putt. What does the rule book say? Too bad. Get out your wedge and chip it. (If the sprinkler head is on the green or if the sprinkler head affects your stance or your swing path, you get relief.)
“Wait a minute,” you say. “I’ve seen the pros get relief in this situation.” And that is true. At every tournament — and at probably every golf course — there are “local rules”. These are rules or relief situations that are in effect for that tournament. So it is very possible that at some tournaments the committee had decided to allow players to take relief in this situation. However, if you are playing in a tournament or a match where this situation comes up and you do not know if there is a local rule that would allow relief, the best way is to play two balls. How?
Announce to your playing partners that you intend to play two balls from this point until you can find out the ruling. Play your first ball as it lies and continue until you hole it out. Then go back, take relief (one club length no closer to the hole from your nearest point of relief) and play that ball until it is holed out. Be sure to record both scores. Now if the scores are the same, it didn’t matter if you got relief or not. If the scores are different, at your next opportunity — like at the turn or just after finishing — ask in the pro shop what the ruling is. Whatever they say is the ruling, you then take the score that is connected to that ruling. Say you had a 5 without relief and a 4 with relief, and you find out that there is a local rule allowing relief. You get a 4. However, if it was reversed and you had a 4 without relief and a 5 with relief, you would need to take the 5.
USGA Rule 24-2 & Appendix I
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