Rules Clinic – Obstacles & Relief (803.01 & 803.02)

Important Rules That are Often Overlooked
Rule 803.01 Obstacles and Relief & 803.02 Optional Relief and Optional Re-Throw

We’ve all been in a rough place while on the course, maybe in a mud puddle or in the middle of a thick bush or behind a pesky tree branch that blocks the ideal line to the basket. The rules that govern these situations are fairly common sense, but they are also among the most oft-abused and misunderstood rules in the book. Let’s go through the rules step by step and hash it all out.

803.01 A. Obstacles to a Stance or Throwing Motion: With the exception of casual obstacles to a stance as described below, a player is not allowed to move any obstacle on the course. No relief is granted from park equipment (such as signs, trash cans, or picnic tables), which is considered to be part of the course. A player is allowed to request that other people remove themselves and/or their belongings from the player’s stance or line of play.

Nearly all obstacles on the course are there by design. If there’s a branch that hangs in just the right spot to block your preferred route to the basket, there’s a good reason for it. If there’s a tree on the edge of a green, it’s there for a reason. If there’s a good sized rock/boulder in the center of the fairway, it is playing a role in the design/difficulty of the hole.

Branches should never be bent or broken from their trees/bushes, nor should small trees/bushes be trampled down, nor should signs/benches/etc be moved aside in order to give oneself a better stance or line to the basket. Play around, over, or under obstacles but never move something between the lie and the hole to give yourself a better shot.

It’s easy to comply with this rule when in the open fairway, but get into the rough and into thicker trees/bushes, it gets a bit tougher. The essence of following the rule is to cause the least disturbance possible to the objects and obstacles around you. That means that sometimes it won’t be possible to take a normal, comfortable and up-right stance behind the lie. The rules state that a legal stance constitutes having a supporting point directly behind the mark/lie on the line of play, so there’s generally no relief granted if a stance is possible (we’ll get to where relief is allowed in a little bit). The key is that the supporting point behind the mark need not be your foot…it just needs to be a part of the body in contact with the playing surface. So if need be, that supporting point can be a knee, a hand, a finger, etc. Whatever it might take to assume a legal stance and get a throw down the fairway.

Most often, though, when in a situation like this, it takes a bit of contorting and finagling some limbs (both body and tree) to get into a position to throw. Once the stance is taken, no obstacle can be moved/altered. That means that a branch can be adjusted in order to attain a stance (perhaps holding it slightly aside to slide a foot past it to the ground below), BUT it must return to its original position before the throw is made. It cannot be held out of the way in any manner, including by way of backing into it and holding it back with one’s body. There is a term for such actions, “tunneling”, and it is not a word that is looked upon well in the disc golf world. Best to avoid any appearance of it as best as one can.

803.01 B. Casual Obstacles to a Stance: A player may obtain relief only from the following obstacles that are on or behind the lie: casual water, loose leaves or debris, broken branches no longer connected to a tree, motor vehicles, harmful insects or animals, players’ equipment, people, or any item or area specifically designated by the Director before the round. To obtain relief, the player must remove the obstacle if it is practical to do so. If it is impractical to move the obstacle, the player’s lie may be relocated to the nearest lie which is no closer to the target, is on the line of play, and is not more than five meters from the original lie (unless greater casual relief is announced by the Director).

There are two separate issues addressed with this rule as there are two types of casual obstacles: movable and unmovable. It is important to note that only obstacles and objects designated as casual can be treated as such, and even then, the designated objects must be within one’s stance in order to be allowed to move or take relief from them. Never make the assumption that an object or obstacle can be moved in accordance with the rule simply because one is physically able to move it. The written rule illustrates some standard examples, but anything outside of those specific examples should be treated as permanent and therefore immovable obstacles unless the course designer or tournament director designates them as casual obstacles.

Once something is established as a casual obstacle, the rule can be applied. If it is possible to move it from one’s stance, a player is allowed to do so. For casual obstacles that are impractical/impossible to move out of the way, relief is granted without penalty. This relief allows the player to re-locate to the nearest available lie that is on the line of play, no closer to the target than the initial lie, and is within five meters of that initial lie. The important piece is that it is the nearest available lie to the original, which does not mean the “best” or most advantageous lie along the five meter line. The determination of the lie is up to the majority of the playing group or an official if one is present.

If a situation arises for which there is no lie that is deemed playable within the five meters, the player is given two choices: play it from within the five meters even if it is an undesirable or uncomfortable stance (such as in a puddle of casual water) or the player may take optional relief or re-throw per rule 803.02. We’re going a bit out of book order, but it makes the most sense to address this here.

803.02 A. Optional Relief. A player may elect at any time to take optional relief. The lie may then be relocated to a new lie which is no closer to the target, and is on the line of play. One penalty throw shall be added to the player’s score.

803.02 B. Optional Re-throw. A player may elect at any time to re-throw from the previous lie. The original throw plus one penalty throw shall be counted in the player’s score.

Both of these options are available not just when casual relief doesn’t go far enough, but at any time during a round. The cost for taking either option is always a one throw penalty as well as any distance from the target sacrificed. It should also be noted for emphasis that the Optional Re-throw can be taken in lieu of playing from any position, including a position that incurs a penalty, and the option can not be removed or restricted by the tournament director.

For example, if a TD has declared that all throws following an out-of-bounds throw must be made from a designated drop zone, the player still has the option of re-throwing from the previous lie if the player prefers. Either way, the player is still adding a one-throw penalty to his score. Now, back to the Obstacles rule.

803.01 C. Course equipment may always be restored to its proper working order, including the clearing of obstacles.

A small exception to 803.01 A in terms of changing or moving obstacles that are both not in a player’s stance and does not technically qualify as a casual obstacle. The most common example of restoring equipment to proper working order is adjusting the chains on a target should they become entangled. Another common example is if a branch or some other debris is lodged in the target, it can be removed without penalty by any player at any time. The intent of the rule is to ensure that essential course equipment, in particular the targets, are in the same working condition for each player in competition.

803.01 D. A player shall receive one penalty throw, without a warning, for violation of an obstacle or relief rule.

This emphasizes that all players’ approach to obstacles should be to ask the group for a ruling before proceeding to move the obstacle or take relief from it. Better to check with the group than to assume and be incorrect. The two most common instances for violation are moving obstacles that do not qualify as casual obstacles and taking too much relief along the five meter line than is necessary in order to give oneself a more advantageous shot. There are some eagle eye players out there that will not hesitate to speak up if such violations occur, so it is always better to err on the side of caution and ask first.

803.01 E. A player who purposely damages any part of the course shall receive two penalty throws, without a warning. The player may also be disqualified from the tournament, in accordance with Section 3.3 of the Competition Manual.

Perhaps the most important rule in the entire PDGA Rules of Play book. The integrity of the course lay in every obstacle upon the course; every tree, bush, shrub, rock, and blade of grass is there for a purpose. Players that disregard this rule and flagrantly and intentionally cause damage by bending and breaking branches/bushes/trees, abusing course equipment, or vandalizing any part of the course are the worst kind of violators. Not only for the damage caused to the course itself, but for the disrespect it shows course owners/designers, tournament directors/organizers, and all other players.

Don’t be one of those people. Whether it is a casual round, a serious tournament, or anything in between, never be in violation of this rule. The more respect you show the course, the more it will show you. Karma can be a b—-…the next branch you snap out of the way to get a better line could be the cause of the next shot that misses the target and rolls into a deep, deep pond. Don’t be that person.