Rules Guy, I was playing with my usual foursome when I hit my (also usual) deep fade off of the tee on a tight par 4. My ball landed right up against the fence along the side of the course that has always been my nemesis. Figuring that the fence was a manmade obstruction, I picked up my ball and gave myself a free drop (but not closer to the hole), as I've done many times before. When I got up to the green, one of my friends insisted that I actually should have taken a stroke penalty for an unplayable lie. Was he right, or have I been playing it correctly?
-- Kris Pardish, Via e-mail
When Robert Frost said that, "Good fences make good neighbors," he clearly didn't have a bad tee shot in mind. You are correct that artificial objects on the course are typically obstructions, but that's not always the case. In fact, objects that define out of bounds (including fences) are specifically listed as exceptions and are not considered obstructions. If you had realized your mistake right away, you would have only been charged the one-stroke penalty that your friend suggested under Rule 18-2a. Unfortunately, since you decided to play on, you were subject to a two-stroke penalty or the loss of the hole in match play. Get to know your obstructions a little better and try to be a bit less neighborly with those fences.