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 covered in Rule 24 and Rule 25.

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.

Full Definition of Nearest Point of Relief from the Rulebook

In the Official Rules of Golf, this is the definition of nearest point of relief from the USGA and R&A:

Nearest Point of Relief

The "nearest point of relief" is the reference point for taking relief without penalty from interference by an immovable obstruction (Rule 24-2), an abnormal ground condition (Rule 25-1) or a wrong putting green (Rule 25-3).

It is the point on the course nearest to where the ball lies:

(i) that is not nearer the hole, and
(ii) where, if the ball were so positioned, no interference by the condition from which relief is sought would exist for the stroke the player would have made from the original position if the condition were not there.

Note: In order to determine the nearest point of relief accurately, the player should use the club with which he would have made his next stroke if the condition were not there to simulate the address position, direction of play and swing for such a stroke.

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. (Rule 24-2)
  • Abnormal ground condition: For example, casual water, areas marked ground under repair, gopher holes. (Rule 25-1)
  • 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. (Rule 25-3)

Note that you must take relief if your ball is on a wrong putting green, and that, as Rule 25-3 states, "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 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.

This is the scenario depicted in the graphic at the top of this page.

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 under Rule 18-2, whether you marked your ball or not. So remember: Only lift your ball after you've decided to use the NPR.

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

Important: The "relief" in "nearest point of 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.

For more, be sure to read Rule 24-2, Rule 25-1 and Rule 25-3. Also, see the USGA's video on NPR, and another page with more NPR video explainers. And decisions relating to these rules can be found on usga.org and randa.org.

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