Rules Column: Pat Campbell

If a train runs through a golf course, there are some rules to follow

One of the neat parts of being a golf rules official is the wide variety of golf courses you get to work on and a course with one of the most unusual features is Veterans Memorial in Walla Walla, Washington. I’m referring to the active railway that runs through the front nine.

So, what rules situations could possibly arise when you have a train running through the golf course? Well, some interesting ones.

To set the stage, it is important to know that the railway tracks, rail bed and cut bank are all treated as one single Immovable Obstruction with free relief. So, if your ball, area of your stance or area of your intended swing have interference from any of the above features, take your nearest point of complete relief, add a club length to determine your relief area and drop your ball, all free.

The train runs through more often in the harvest season as it trucks grain into the Port of Walla Walla, so your chances of seeing it and possibly having the train insert itself into your game increase during this season. So, what possible scenarios could occur that involve the train itself?

What if your ball strikes the train and is deflected? The train is an outside influence, so now you play your ball as it lies, the same as you would if it hit a maintenance vehicle or someone’s cart or equipment. No penalty, whew. Check with the clubhouse for your liability if you break a window on the train…….ouch.

What if it is known or virtually certain that your ball has somehow remained on or in the train and is now bound for town? Fortunately, no penalty and you will drop a ball at the point on the course that it came to rest in or on the train. As this will almost certainly be within the railbed area, you can now take free relief from the railbed as an Immovable Obstruction. A bit time consuming, but definitely makes for a great story at the Nineteenth Hole.

What happens if you cannot find your ball that was hit toward the tracks and it is not known or virtually certain that it is in or on the train? It could be in some of the vegetation that lies along the way……Not so much fun this time, your ball is now lost and you must go back and play under stroke and distance.

What if your ball rolls under the train and the train comes to a stop? You can’t safely reach your ball, but it is known or virtually certain that it is under the train. Drop a ball at the nearest point that you are free from interference from the train, no penalty. Go back later to get your ball if it has either sentimental or financial value.

Have a favorite golf course with potential for unusual rules situations? I’d love to hear about it.

Pat Campbell is a rules official. She can be reached at