Nearest Point of Relief: When You Need to Find It, How to Determine It

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Finding the Nearest Point of Relief, and Why You Might Need To

Illustration of the nearest point of relief
An illustration of nearest point of relief, courtesy of the R&A. 'B' is ball position and 'P' represents nearest point of relief for each ball position indicated. Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews

The "nearest point of relief" in golf is a spot on a golf course closest to the golfer's ball but no closer to the hole from which the golfer can take a free drop (without penalty) when that golf ball is sitting in one of several specific circumstances that are mostly covered in Rule 16.

On this page we'll outline those circumstances, when you have to find the nearest point of relief (NPR), how to determine the NPR and how to make your drop once you've found the NPR.

First, note that in the edition of the rule book that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, the term "nearest point of relief" was replaced by "nearest point of complete relief." That is the term now in use in the Rules of Golf.

Definition of Nearest Point of Complete Relief from the Rule Book

In the Rules of Golf, this is the condensed definition (from the Player's Edition of the rule book) of nearest point of relief from the USGA and R&A:

"Your reference point for taking free relief from an abnormal course condition (Rule 16.1), dangerous animal condition (Rule 16.2), wrong green (Rule 13.1f) or no play zone (Rules 16.1f and 17.1e), or in taking relief under certain Local Rules.

"It is the estimated point where your ball would lie that is:

*Nearest to your ball’s original spot, but not nearer the hole than that spot,
*In the required area of the course, and
*Where the condition does not interfere with the stroke you would have made from the original spot if the condition was not there.

"Estimating this reference point requires you to identify the choice of club, stance, swing and line of play you would have used for that stroke."

(Note that full definition, which you can read on the R&A's Definitions page, includes additional info.)


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When You Need to Find the Nearest Point of Relief

So let's put this in plainer language. If your ball comes to rest in one of the following circumstances, and one of these situations inteferes with your lie, stance or area of intended swing, you may take relief without penalty:

  • Intereference from an immovable obstruction: Any obstruction that can't be moved, such as a cart path or maintenance road.
  • Abnormal ground condition: For example, temporary water, areas marked ground under repair, gopher holes.
  • Wrong putting green: Oops - you're playing the 2nd hole, but somehow your ball wound up on the 17th green! That's a wrong putting green. Better find that nearest point of relief.

Note that you must take relief if your ball is on a wrong putting green, and that "interference to a player’s stance or the area of his intended swing is not, of itself, interference" by a wrong putting green.

In the other circumstances, however, interference with your lie or your stance or your area of intended swing entitles you to free relief, which starts with finding that nearest point of relief.

How to Determine the Nearest Point of Relief

Your golf ball is sitting in a place that allows you free relief. Now what?

In this example, we'll use a paved cart path as the condition that interferes with your lie, stance or swing. So picture your golf ball sitting on a cart path.

Start by considering the shot you would play from that spot if the cart path wasn't in the way. Would you hit, say, a 7-iron? Then pull the 7-iron out of your bag.

Now, look around the cart path. What direction can you move the ball? You can't move it closer to the hole, so forward is out. Can you go left? Right? Behind? Using your 7-iron, try setting up for a shot (or picture doing so) in each direction it is possible to do so. Make sure you are taking full relief from the cart path (feet off the path, path not interfering with your swing) and look at where your ball would sit in that case.

How far is it from these potential locations to where your golf ball actually came to rest on the cart path?

The spot that is closest to the original position without being closer to the hole is your nearest point of complete relief.

Once you find the NPR, put a tee (or other marker) in or on the ground at that spot. Using any club (you don't have to stick with the 7-iron from our example for this part), measure one club-length over and one club-length behind the NPR. This is the area within which you must take your free drop - a radius of one club-length, no closer to the hole, from the NPR.

Follow normal dropping procedure from this point. The described scenario is the one depicted in the graphic above.

For additional graphics explaining the process, see Rule 16 in the rule book. You can also watch a video explainer from the USGA.

Note: You should always determine where your nearest point of relief is, and decide to proceed with the drop, before lifting your golf ball. If you lift your ball first, then discover the NPR is in a bad spot and decide not to take relief, you incur a penalty. So remember: Only lift your ball after you've decided to use the NPR.


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'Nearest Point of Relief' Does Not Mean 'Closest Place I'll Have a Good Lie'

Important: The "relief" in "nearest point of complete relief" is relief from the original condition interfering with your shot. It is NOT relief from interference or issues caused by any other condition.

What does that mean? Well, your nearest point of relief might be behind a big tree. Or in the middle of a bush. Those are the breaks.

If the NPR results in your ball winding up in a bad spot, you'll just have to deal with it as you would any other bad spot: punching out from behind trouble, declaring your ball unplayable (and going through the drop procedures for that, after the initial free relief), etc.

The nearest point of relief might also result in an improved situation: moving your ball out of rough into the fairway, for example. The NPR might result in your golf ball moving to a similar situation, a better situation or a worse (possibly much worse) situation. A little good luck never hurts!

Note that you are not required to take free relief for the situations described above except in the case of a wrong putting green (golf courses also have the option to implement a local rule requiring that you drop without penalty out of ground under repair).

You have the option to play the ball as it lies, except for a wrong putting green (and, typically, GUR). If your nearest point of relief is in a terrible spot, then you can choose to (sticking with our example) play the ball off the cart path rather than take the free relief.



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