Free Relief is not Mandatory nor an Automatic Option
Rule 16 – Relief from Abnormal Course Conditions (Including Immovable Obstructions), Dangerous Animal Condition, Embedded Ball, covers when and how a player may take free relief by playing a ball from a different place, such as when there is interference by an abnormal course condition or a dangerous animal condition.
These conditions are not treated as part of the challenge of playing the course, and free relief is generally allowed except in a penalty area.
The player normally takes relief by dropping a ball in a relief area based on the nearest point of complete relief.
Many players assume that they must take Free Relief under a Rule that offers it as an option or take Free Relief because it is offered.
However, there are occasions when a player decides against taking Free Relief because a Nearest Point of Complete Relief may place her/his ball in an unfavourable lie, and so s/he opts to play the ball as it lies.
A player is allowed to play her/his ball as it lies if they so wish.
There may also be occasions when Free Relief may not be allowed, and these are outlined under Rule 16.1a(3) – No Relief When Clearly Unreasonable to Play Ball.
When playing the ball as it lies is clearly unreasonable because of something other than an abnormal course condition (such as, when a player is standing in temporary water or on an immovable obstruction but is unable to make a stroke because of where the ball lies in a bush), or
When interference exists only because a player chooses a club, type of stance or swing or direction of play that is clearly unreasonable under the circumstances.
The diagram below illustrates a typical instance when Free Relief would not be allowed.