Rules of Golf

It’s called the ‘2-by-2 rule.’ Here’s how it can save you shots around the green

August 15, 2023

Steve Dykes

A cliché among television analysts is that when players chip from the fringe, “They’re trying to make it,” and when they choose to putt from off the green, “They’re just focused on two-putting.” The calculation for average golfers is often less nuanced. You’re pulling the putter because you’re scared of the delicate chip off a tightly mown fringe.


There’s no shame in the Texas wedge, and it’s often the prudent play for amateurs who might not practice their chipping often. What happens, though, when a sprinkler head between you and the hole prevents you from putting? At first glance, the rules are unforgiving. Sprinkler heads are considered immovable obstructions, which are treated like abnormal course conditions and are addressed under Rule 16.1.

Players are entitled to free relief only if the ball “touches or is in” the obstruction or if the obstruction “interferes with the player’s area of intended stance or area of intended swing.” If your ball is not sitting on the sprinkler head, you’re not standing on it when addressing the ball and it’s not in the way of your swing, it seems you’re out of luck.

But before you take your wedge out and show your playing partners why you were so inclined to putt, check to see what local rules are in play at your course. Model Local Rule F-5, known as the 2-by-2 rule, addresses immovable objects close to putting greens. Courses or tournament committees may choose to use the local rule when there are plenty of closely mown aprons or fringes surrounding the greens.


There are three criterion that must be met to use the 2-by-2 rule. First, the sprinkler head (or other immovable obstruction) must be on your intended line of play. And no, you can’t exaggerate and say you “intend” to aim 10 feet right of the hole just to get relief. The rule states that you don’t get a free drop if you choose a line of play that is “clearly unreasonable.” The obstruction must also be within two club-lengths of the putting green and your ball must be within two club-lengths of the obstruction. Hence, the 2-by-2 moniker.

If you use the 2-by-2 rule, you can take a drop by finding your nearest point of complete relief from the sprinkler head and then dropping within one club-length of that spot, no closer to the hole.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re likely keen on following the rules as they are written, so be aware that there are two versions of this local rule. One allows for 2-by-2 relief in any part of the General Area (essentially, fairways and rough), while the second version, MLR F-5.2, grants relief only when both the ball and obstruction are in grass cut to fairway height or less.

This likely isn’t a rule you’ll use more than a handful of times each year, but when you’re stymied by a sprinkler head, it can save you a stroke or two and plenty of embarrassment as you take putter off the tight lie. The next time you’re playing a course with plenty of runoff areas, be sure to check with the pro shop or tournament committee to see if they’re using the 2-by-2 local rule.