Putting From Off the Green, Do You Get Relief From a Sprinkler Head?

Sprinkler Heads Sometimes Get in the Way, Here's the Ruling

Yuta Ikeda of Japan drops his ball as he takes relief from a sprinkler head on the 7th hole during the third round of the 2011 Northern Trust Open
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The situation is this: Your golf ball is off the green, but close enough that you want to putt; however, directly in your putting line, between your ball and the green, is a sprinkler head embedded in the apron or fringe. Do you get to move your golf ball, without penalty, so that you don't have to try to putt over the sprinkler head?

The short answer is no. But golf courses can introduce a local rule that provides a possible exception.

(Note that the specific rules cited in this article are from the 2015-18 Rules of Golf edition. In 2019, newly rewritten rules will be published. The new rules won't change this ruling, but the specific rules cited probably will change.)

A Sprinkler Head Is an Immovable Obstruction

When dealing with this sprinkler head scenario, the rule in question is Rule 24-2, Immovable Obstruction. The sprinkler head obviously can't be moved, so many golfers believe that they should be able to move the ball (dropping one club length away, no nearer the hole).

If your ball is on top of the sprinkler head, you can move it without penalty. If it is resting up against the sprinkler head, you can move it with a free drop. If the sprinkler head affects your swing or prevents you from taking your normal stance, you can move the ball under Rule 24-2.

However, none of those things applies in this example. The problem is that if you putt the ball, you'll have to roll it directly over the sprinkler head because it is in the line of your putt.

Rule 24-2 specifically addresses that problem in this way:

"If the player's ball lies on the putting green, interference also occurs if an immovable obstruction on the putting green intervenes on his line of putt. Otherwise, intervention on the line of play is not, of itself, interference under this Rule."

In other words, in order to take relief because of interference with the line of your putt, your ball must be on the green. In our example, however, the ball is off the green. Therefore, you cannot move the ball.

Your options are to go ahead and putt across the sprinkler head, or to play a chip shot in order to fly your ball over the obstruction and onto the green.

A Local Rule About Sprinklers Near the Green

Golf courses have the option to enact a local rule that allows free relief when a sprinkler head is within two club-lengths of the putting surface. An example of how that local rule might read is included in the Rules of Golf, Appendix I-B(6). If the local rule is in effect, relief is allowed even if the interference is just with your putting line. If the local rule is not in effect, then putting line interference is not enough, by itself, to get the golfer free relief.

And many golf courses (and some golf tournaments) do have such a rule in effect. So it pays to know your course's local rules. (They are often posted in the clubhouse and/or printed on the scorecard.)