Last month at The American Express tournament in La Quinta, California, I was fortunate to witness some great golf, and to get up-close and personal with some of my favorite players, like Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau and Phil Mickelson. 

Since I’m a complete golf rules geek, I actually get a kick out of seeing issues around the rules of golf come up during a tournament. At this particular tournament, I was lucky enough to witness a great example of how to take free relief from a cart path, thanks to Phil Mickelson. 

Free Relief From a Cart Path

I was standing next to the green waiting for Phil Mickelson’s group to hit their approach shots when a ball bounced onto and landed on the cart path right next to a large group of spectators. 

The crowd got excited when they realized they were going be standing right next to Phil, so they gathered in closely around his ball.

Phil’s caddy walked up, assessed the lie, and asked some of the spectators to take a few steps back to give Phil room to take his drop. Phil then walked over and began the procedures for taking relief from an immovable obstruction.


It’s a good idea to mark the spot of your ball, but not required

Cart paths are considered immovable obstructions and fall under Rule 16.1 Abnormal Course Conditions, from which a player make take free relief.

Interference exists when any one of these is true:

  • The player’s ball touches or is in or on an abnormal course condition,

  • An abnormal course condition physically interferes with the player’s area of intended stance or area of intended swing, or

  • Only when the ball is on the putting green, an abnormal course condition on or off the putting green intervenes on the line of play.


Determine your nearest point of complete relief


Measure your relief area within one club-length of reference point

Which Club Do You Use To Measure? 

How you measure and take a drop from a cart path is one of the major changes that came about in 2019. Many players are still a bit confused about which club to use to measure a club-length. When you’re taking free relief from an immovable obstruction, you first need to determine your nearest point of complete relief. You do this using the club you would use for this shot. 

I filmed a video about taking relief from a cart path during a recent On-Course Rules Experience I taught in Lake Take, California. 

Once you determine your nearest point of complete relief, that spot becomes your Reference Point. And from there you measure one club length, which becomes your Relief Area.  

The USGA definition of a club-length is the longest club in your bag, except your putter. For most players this is a driver. 

14.3 Dropping Ball in Relief Area

b. Ball Must Be Dropped in Right Way

The player must drop a ball in the right way, which means all three of these things:

(1) Player Must Drop Ball. The ball must be dropped only by the player. Neither the player’s caddie nor anyone else may do so.

(2) Ball Must Be Dropped Straight Down from Knee Height Without Touching Player or Equipment. The player must let go of the ball from a location at knee height so that the ball:

  • Falls straight down, without the player throwing, spinning or rolling it or using any other motion that might affect where the ball will come to rest, and

  • Does not touch any part of the player’s body or equipment before it hits the ground. 

“Knee height” means the height of the player’s knee when in a standing position.

(Rules & diagram courtesy of


Drop a ball within the relief area

Hit your shot

99% of the time, when these basic rules issues come up during a round, a rules official isn’t necessarily called over. I say 99% because we’ve all seen the broadcasts of players calling for rules officials for simple drops like this one. Sometimes things are as straight-forward as they appear, but at times there’s an unusual situation that can’t be seen by the television camera and an official ruling is required. 

TheAmEx-Putting Green

Land the ball right near the hole


Sink your putt for par

In this case, Phil chipped it on to the green within about two feet of the hole, and never had a doubt about sinking his putt for par.​​​

After geeking out on this experience, I couldn’t wait to share it with you all because this was such a perfect example of how to take free relief from a cart path. I hope you now have a better understanding about relief from immovable obstructions.

If you’d like to  learn a few more golf rules, check out these blog posts or follow me on social media.


Check out this video about taking relief from a cart path from a recent On-Course Rules Experience I taught in Lake Take, California. 

Marcela launched Girlfriends Guide To Golf and her On-Course Rules Experiences to grow the game, help women learn the rules of golf, and feel more confident out on the course.

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