Environmentally-Sensitive Areas (ESAs)

In the 16 years or so I’ve been playing golf, I’ve never run into an environmentally-sensitive area or ESA out on the golf course. But they are out there.

Holes 2-5 at McDowell Mountain Golf Club in Scottsdale have an ESA running alongside them.
Holes 2-5 at McDowell Mountain Golf Club in Scottsdale have ESAs.

PGA Professional Ed Ekis was telling us a story recently about the ESA that runs along holes 2-5 at McDowell Mountain Golf Club (formerly Sanctuary Golf Course) in Scottsdale. He told us there were days when the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality would park a truck out there and hand out either warnings or citations to curious golfers who wandered into the ESAs looking for their golf balls.

As you might expect, golf has a Rule for ESAs. In fact, there’s an entire section dedicated to it. These areas are marked by stakes with green tops. Blue stakes with green tops denote ground under repair, red stakes with green tops denote a lateral water hazard, yellow stakes with green tops denote a water hazard, and white stakes with green tops denote out of bounds.

The Rule can be found under Appendix I. Part A. Local Rules:

3. Areas of the Course Requiring Preservation; Environmentally Sensitive Areas
Assisting preservation of the course by defining areas, including turf nurseries, young plantations and other parts of the course under cultivation, as ground under repair from which play is prohibited.

When the Committee is required to prohibit play from environmentally-sensitive areas that are on or adjoin the course, it should make a Local Rule clarifying the relief procedure.

It continues a few pages later:

b. Environmentally-Sensitive Areas
If an appropriate authority (i.e., a Government Agency or the like) prohibits entry into and/or play from an area on or adjoining the course for environmental reasons, the Committee should make a Local Rule clarifying the relief procedure.

The Committee has some discretion in terms of whether the area is defined as ground under repair, a water hazard, or out of bounds. However, it may not simply define the area to be a water hazard if it does not meet the Definitions of a “Water Hazard” and it should attempt to preserve the character of the hole.

The following Local Rule is recommended:

ESAs are usually marked by signed or stakes with green tops.
ESAs are usually marked by signed or stakes with green tops.

“I. Definition
An environmentally-sensitive area (ESA) is an area so declared by an appropriate authority, entry into and/or play from which is prohibited for environmental reasons. These areas may be defined as ground under repair, a water hazard, a lateral water hazard or out of bounds at the discretion of the Committee, provided that in the case of an ESA that has been defined as a water hazard or a lateral water hazard, the area is, by definition, a water hazard.

Note: The Committee may not declare an area to be environmentally-sensitive.

II. Ball in Environmentally-Sensitive Area
a. Ground Under Repair
If a ball is in is in an ESA defined as ground under repair, a ball must be dropped in accordance with Rule 25-1b. If it is known or virtually certain that a ball that has not been found is in an ESA defined as ground under repair, the player may take relief, without penalty, as prescribed in Rule 25-1c.

b. Water Hazards and Lateral Water Hazards
If the ball is found in or if it is known or virtually certain that a ball that has not been found is in an ESA defined as a water hazard or lateral water hazard, the player must, under penalty of one stroke, proceed under Rule 26-1.

Note: If a ball, dropped in accordance with Rule 26 rolls into a position where the ESA interferes with the player’s stance or the area of his intended swing, the player must take relief as provided in Clause III of this Local Rule.

c. Out of Bounds
If a ball is in an ESA defined as out of bounds, the player must play a ball, under penalty of one stroke, as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5).

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Relief procedures should be closely followed to avoid penalty: loss of hole in match play and two strokes in stroke play.

III. Interference with Stance or Area of Intended Swing
Interference by an ESA occurs when the ESA interferes with the player’s stance or the area of his intended swing. If interference exists, the player must take relief as follows:

(a) Through the Green: If the ball lies through the green, the point on the course nearest to where the ball lies must be determined that (a) is not nearer the hole, (b) avoids interference by the ESA and (c) is not in a hazard or on a putting green. The player must lift the ball and drop it, without penalty, within one club-length of the point so determined on a part of the course that fulfils (a), (b) and (c) above.

(b) In a Hazard: If the ball is in a hazard, the player must lift the ball and drop it either:
i) Without penalty, in the hazard, as near as possible to the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole, on a part of the course that provides complete relief from the ESA; or
(ii) Under penalty of one stroke, outside the hazard, keeping the point where the ball lay directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the hazard the ball may be dropped. Additionally, the player may proceed under Rule 26 or 28 if applicable.

(c) On the Putting Green: If the ball lies on the putting green, the player must lift the ball and place it, without penalty, in the nearest position to where it lay that affords complete relief from the ESA, but not nearer the hole or in a hazard. The ball may be cleaned when lifted under Clause III of this Local Rule.

Exception: A player may not take relief under Clause III of this Local Rule if (a) interference by anything other than an ESA makes the stroke clearly impracticable or (b) interference by an ESA would occur only through use of a clearly unreasonable stroke or an unnecessarily abnormal stance, swing or direction of play.

PENALTY FOR BREACH OF LOCAL RULE:
Match play – Loss of hole; Stroke play – Two strokes.

Note: In the case of a serious breach of this Local Rule, the Committee may impose a penalty of disqualification.”

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