Abnormal Ground Conditions: What They Are ... And Aren't

Peter Hanson of Sweden hits an approach shot next to ground under repair, following a landslide on the 1st hole during the final round of The Barclays Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links on July 10, 2011
The damaged area of this golf hole has a white line around it, designating it as ground under repair, which makes it an abnormal ground condition. Warren Little/Getty Images

An "abnormal ground condition" is any of several poor physical conditions on a golf course that, when one exists and your golf ball or stance is affected by it, entitle the player to (usually free) relief. We'll get into specifics, but first ...

Definition in the Rules of 'Abnormal Ground Conditions'

This is the official definition of "abnormal ground conditions" as it appears in the Rules of Golf, which is jointly written by the USGA and R&A:

"An 'abnormal ground condition' is any casual water, ground under repair or hole, cast or runway on the course made by a burrowing animal, a reptile or a bird."

Examples of Abnormal Ground Conditions

Let's break down that rule book definition. Abnormal ground conditions are:

  • Casual water: Any temporary accumulation of water on the course, for example, puddles of water left after a rain. You must be able to see water either before or after you take your stance to get relief from casual water. Snow or natural ice can be considered casual water. (Casual water does not apply to water hazards.)
  • Ground under repair: Exactly what it sounds like. If the course superintendent or maintenance staff are working on a part of the course turf, that area is called "ground under repair" and should be designated as such (white lines on the ground, or staking or roping off the area). Any hole dug by greenskeeping staff or piles of material left for removal are GUR even if not marked as such.
  • Burrowing animal holes: Holes made by burrowing animals, reptiles and birds are abnormal ground conditions, as is the dirt thrown out of the holes in their digging.  

And Some Things That Are Not Abnormal Ground Conditions

  • Grass clippings left in place after mowing (i.e., not piled for removal).
  • Wet ground, spongy ground, mushy ground that does not have any water showing above ground even after you take your stance.
  • Dew or frost on the ground.
  • Any hole dug by an animal that is not burrowing, unless a local rule covering such a thing is in place. A dog is not a burrowing animal, for example, so if a dog runs onto the course and digs a hole, and then you hit your ball into that hole, it doesn't qualify as an abnormal ground condition. (But it does qualify as really rotten luck!)
  • Holes made by worms and insects also don't count as AGC.
  • Aeration holes on putting greens are not covered by the phrase "holes made by greenkeepers" as mentioned in the definition of ground under repair, and, therefore, are not AGC.

The governing bodies go over many other scenarios (some you've probably never even thought of) in their Decisions on Rule 25-1 (Abnormal Ground Conditions).

What to Do When Your Ball Is in an Abnormal Ground Condition

Abnormal ground conditions - and what to do if your golf ball comes to rest in or on one - are covered in the rule book in Rule 25-1.

Note first that you can play out of the AGC if you choose.

And note that it's not just your ball touching an AGC that gets you relief; if an AGC interferes with your stance or the area of your swing - or, on the putting green only, with your line of putt - you also get relief.

Outside of bunkers and the putting green, a ball in an abnormal ground condition must be lifted and dropped within one club-length of the nearest point of relief. There is no penalty.

Free relief applies in bunkers only if the ball is dropped inside the bunker; the golfer can drop outside the bunker with a 1-stroke penalty.

And on the putting green, the ball is placed rather than dropped in taking relief from an AGC. Always keep in mind the nearest point of relief cannot be closer to the hole.

Also, if your ball is inside the boundary of a water hazard, no free relief applies.

See Rule 25-1 for more details, exceptions and what to do if your ball goes into an abnormal ground condition and you can't find it.

More info about abnormal ground conditions:

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