Golf Rules: When Do You Get Free Relief In Golf? (A Free Drop)

Knowledge is power and understanding the rules of golf can help you shoot lower scores.

The most important rule to know is when you get free relief in golf. A free drop can be the difference between a birdie and a double bogey.

Just to be clear, free relief in golf means that you get to drop your ball with no penalty.

Below we will explore free relief in golf – when you get it, how you take it, and if you should ever play the ball as it lies instead of taking your free drop.

We want you to be prepared regardless of what you encounter on the golf course. Let’s get started!

free relief in golf

Why Would You Take Free Relief In Golf?

There are several advantages to taking a drop when the rules allow. First, you get a chance to improve your lie.

If you are getting free relief in golf it is likely your ball is sitting in a unique situation. The drop will almost always improve your chances on the next shot.

The other thing is that when you take a drop you get to pick up and clean your golf ball. Did you know that a little dirt or mud on your ball can cause it to curve wildly?

That’s right – the duck hook you hit with your 7-iron might have been due to mud on the ball, not your golf swing.

Nothing drives PGA tour professionals crazier than mud balls. They like to control their shots, and dirt on your golf ball makes this impossible.

Getting the chance to clean your golf ball is one of the biggest advantages of getting free relief in golf.

Golf Rules When Do You Get Free Relief In Golf A Free Drop 3

6 Times You Get Free Relief In Golf

Here are some of the most common situations that allow you to take a free drop.

#1: Cart Path

If your ball ends up on the cart path, you get a free drop, but did you know that if you are standing on the path you can also take free relief in golf?

It’s true – if any part of your foot is touching the cart path you can take a free drop.

The only exception is if the golf course you are playing has cart paths made of sand. If this is true, check the scorecard to see if they have a local rule.

#2: Casual Water

You will probably get free relief in golf if your ball ends up in a puddle. As long as your ball is not in a hazard (penalty area) you get a free drop from any water.

It doesn’t have to be a deep puddle. In fact, the drop is allowed if any water comes up when you step near the ball.

You can’t jump up and down or stomp on the ground, but if you see water when you make a normal step, your ball is in casual water.

Moisture around your golf ball makes it hard to control – if the ground feels “squishy”, always check for casual water.

Free Relief In Golf

#3: Plugged (Embedded) Ball

When you are playing on a wet golf course, it is possible that one of your shots might plug when it lands in the fairway or the rough.

If this happens, you are entitled to a free drop. The only exceptions are when you are in a sand trap or a hazard. You do not get free relief from these areas.

Unsure if your ball all is embedded? You can check! Your ball must be embedded in the ground for you to take a free drop.

#4: Ground Under Repair

You also get free relief in golf if your ball ends up in an area that is currently being worked on by the course superintendent and their team.

Typically ground under repair (GUR) will be marked with white paint. One common example of GUR is freshly laid sod.

If your ball ends up in GUR the golf course doesn’t want you playing a shot from that area, so take your free drop and continue your round.

Free Relief In Golf

#5: Sprinkler Heads

Most golf courses have irrigation systems to help them water the grass and keep everything looking nice and green.

You will notice that all greens have a couple of sprinkler heads just off the fringe and your golf ball can easily end in them or near them.

The good news is that you get free relief in golf if your ball ends up on or near a sprinkler head.

#6: Dangerous Animals

This is kind of a crazy rule, but it makes sense. We don’t want you to get attacked by an alligator during your round!

If your ball ends up near a dangerous animal, you can take a free drop. Don’t lose a hand like Chubbs in Happy Gilmore!

Be honest – don’t try to take advantage of this rule. Professional golfer Bryson DeChambeau once tried to get a free drop from ants!

We aren’t kidding. In 2020 Bryson was playing in a PGA tour event and didn’t like his lie. He called an official over and requested “dangerous animal” relief because he saw fire ants.

His request was denied. You can’t get free relief in golf because you claim to be scared of a chipmunk!

Free Relief In Golf

How Do You Take Free Relief In Golf?

Step 1, you have determined that you are allowed to take a free drop. Step 2, you need to follow the correct process to take your drop.

Here are 3 things to keep in mind when taking free relief in golf.

1. Take Full Relief

You must take full relief. This means you cannot take a drop that still leaves in the area that allowed you the drop.

For example, if your ball is on the cart path, you can’t take a drop where you would still be standing on the cart path.

Establish your nearest point of full relief and drop your ball within one club length of that spot.

2. Drop The Ball From the Knee Height

This rule changed in 2019. You used to drop your ball from shoulder height, but now you do it from knee height.

You must simply drop the ball, you cannot spin it as you release it.

3. No Closer To The Hole

When taking free relief in golf, you cannot drop the ball closer to the hole than the original location.

If the ball bounces closer to the hole when you drop it, you must drop it again. If this happens twice, you can place the ball on the ground where the 2nd drop landed.

Free Relief In Golf

You Don’t Have To Take A Drop!

Understanding the rules and your options is an important part of course management. You can save strokes with your mind.

Simply because you are allowed to take free relief in golf doesn’t mean that you should.

You will encounter situations on the golf course where you should decline your option for a free drop. Let’s review a couple.

Your ball ends up next to the cart path and you will be standing on the asphalt. You can take a free drop, but you have a good lie and your drop will be in some deep grass.

The good lie is more important, so play the ball as it lies and simply stand on the path while you swing.

Let’s say your ball ends up in casual water, but your nearest point of relief is behind a tree. You are better off playing out of some moisture versus risking hitting a limb.

The key is to find your nearest point of relief before you mark and pick up your golf ball. Your current situation may be better than what you will face after your free drop.

Learn and take advantage of the rules to start shooting lower scores!

Up Next: Learn The Strange Rules Of Golf

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Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +1 handicap.

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