ASK DAVE: Relief from a tree in a penalty area

Dave Mangan is the general manager of championship and golf operations for New Zealand Golf. Since 2013, Dave has been New Zealand Golf’s representative on the R&A rules of golf committee and was involved in the five years of discussions on the 2019 rule changes.

Readers are invited to submit questions to Golfer Pacific editor Paul Gueorgieff by email to Please ensure you explain your questions and situations clearly.

Relief from a tree in a penalty area

Dave: An opponent hit his tee shot to very near a penalty area, but not in the penalty area. His swing was impeded by a small tree in the penalty tree. Our club has a local rule which allows relief from trees under two club lengths. The rule reads: Immovable (relief under rule 24-2) All trees under two club-lengths in height.

We presumed the player was allowed relief even though the tree was in the penalty area. Is that correct?

Dave’s answer: Firstly we wouldn’t recommend that a club has a local rule defining all trees under two club-lengths are immovable obstructions and the reference 24-2 is from the 2018 rules, so this should be updated.

If a club wants to protect young or small trees then they should attach a stake to this tree and declare this a no play zone. This is covered under the committee procedures in the new rules under model local rule E-10 Protection of young trees.

If a player’s swing is impeded by a young tree declared as a no play zone in a penalty area and their ball is outside the penalty area then they are entitled to relief from that tree. If the player’s ball lies in the penalty area then they can take relief from the tree, but must drop inside the penalty area.

Cleaning a ball on the green’s surface

Dave: I used to be told to never clean my golf ball by rubbing it on the putting green. I would studiously walk to the side of the green, clean the golf ball in the neighbouring grass and walk back to where my ball was and replace it.

I was told not to clean the ball on the green because this was testing the green, although what I was supposed to learn I never came to understand. Can you please clarify if this situation still applies?

Dave’s answer: The reason for this rule is that you are not allowed to deliberately test any putting green. It would be a breach of rule 13.1e if you did something like roughen or scrape the grass on the putting green with your hand or golf ball to determine which way the grain was growing. It would however not be a breach of the rule if you were to simply rub your ball on the green to clean off mud.

This was also the case prior to 2019 provided that the purpose of rubbing your ball on the green was for cleaning and not testing the surface, so while you do need to be careful, you are able to clean your ball by rubbing it on the putting green.