Most of the time it's pretty easy for disc golfers to know where they throw their next shot from. They just need to go to where their disc landed, stand behind it, and throw. However, there are some cases where that's either against the rules or simply not possible. In these cases, players can take relief. However, exactly how players take relief changes based on the situation.
In this entry in our Disc Golf Rules Explained series, we tackle the rules surrounding relief and provide plenty of visual examples to help you know the right thing to do in almost any relief situation.
Most rules discussed here relate to 803.2, 806.03, and 806.04 in the Professional Disc Golf Association's (PDGA's) Official Rules of Disc Golf, which you can find a fully searchable version of in the More tab of the UDisc app. The regulations we talk about are based on rules that went into effect on January 1, 2023.
This is just one in our series of articles seeking to help players better understand disc golf rules. If you're interested, check out our others on...
What Is Relief in Disc Golf?
When disc golfers take relief, they move their lie (the place where they'll throw their next shot from) to a place that is different from where their disc last came to rest. The most common – though far from the only – instances when players take relief are when they land immediately next to or in an out-of-bounds (OB) area or in a position that is either impossible or dangerous to play from.
Below, we explain what the Official Rules of Disc Golf say about taking relief in most any circumstance you'll encounter and provide visual examples to help it all make sense.
If you're looking for an explanation of a specific relief situation, you can look for headers in this order:
- Disc Golf's Line of Play and Why It Matters for Relief
- Relief After Going OB or Receiving a Two-Meter Penalty
- Casual Relief
- Relief Areas
- Relief from OB or Relief Area
- Relief from Obstacles
- Optional Relief With One-Throw Penalty
You'll also see number and letter combinations next to some headers. Those are the sections of the PDGA's Official Rules of Disc Golf where you can find the exact wording of the rules we explain.
Disc Golf's "Line of Play" & Why It Matters for Relief
Every time a disc golfer takes relief, they have to do it along what's called the "line of play," so it's really important to understand how to determine your line of play before diving into relief rules. As of the January 2022 update to the rules the line of play is always determined by a player's position in relation to the basket.
The previous rules regarding mandatories affecting the line of play in some cases no longer exist.
We should note, too, that not every course has baskets. There are object courses and ones that use alternative targets like tone poles. Since most disc golfers play on courses with baskets, our descriptions and visual aids revolve around them for the rest of this piece. However, know the line of play is always in reference to the center of a target no matter what that target is.
What Is Disc Golf's Line of Play? (802.05)
The line of play is always an imaginary line running through the middle of a player's disc or mini marker to the pole of the basket. You can see a basic example below:
The basket always determines the line of play whether a hole's fairway follows that line of play or not. Here's an example of a time it could get confusing:
On the horseshoe-shaped fairway shown above, the line of play is determined by the basket – not the fairway – no matter where a player lands. Importantly, lines of play can pass through OB areas, too, so even if the forested area between the player and the basket was OB, the line of play would stay exactly the same as depicted in the image above.
Relief After Going OB or a Two-Meter Penalty (803.02 E)
Before we get going, know that we assume readers have a working knowledge of disc golf's OB and two-meter rules in this section. If you'd like to brush up on those, give our Disc Golf Rules Explained pieces on those topics (linked in the previous sentence) a read.
Additionally, we cover rules on how to take relief if you land near and not in OB in a later section: 'Relief from OB or Relief Area.'
Relief After Going OB
Most disc golfers who've played competitively are aware that when they land in or within one meter of OB, they can take up to one meter of relief from the OB line. What's less known is that after a player goes OB, they can take relief from OB backward (i.e., away from the basket) along the line of play as far as they like.
Why would someone want to move farther from the basket? They might want to avoid obstacles like bushes or low-hanging branches or open up a different shot angle. Here's an example of what could happen after a disc lands in OB water:
It costs no extra strokes to take relief like this after going OB.
Keep in mind that this rule doesn't always allow for a lot of movement like in the example above. Sometimes a player's options for relief after OB are severely limited:
In the situation shown above, there's not much relief to be had. A player can't throw from an OB area, and the OB extends infinitely behind where the player landed, meaning significant movement along the line of play to a playable position isn't possible.
If you're wondering about the multiple lines of play, they're there because players can choose to orient their lines of play to pass through any in-bounds point within one meter of where they went OB. We wanted to emphasize that by showing multiple lines of play.
You can see the last thing we want to point out about taking relief after going OB in this image:
Here we just want to show how lines of play can continue past OB areas. If a player wanted to take their next shot along a valid line of play behind the water to avoid the tree, it would be completely legal to do so.
Relief After a Two-Meter Penalty
The rules governing taking relief after a two-meter penalty are very similar to those related to relief after OB. The biggest difference is that after a two-meter penalty, there's only one point the line of play will pass through: The point on the playing surface directly below a player's disc1.
Other than that, everything is essentially the same. A player can take relief (i.e., back up) from the point on the playing surface directly below their disc as far as they like along the line of play with no additional penalty.
Here's an example:
Before we move on, just a reminder that the two-meter rule is an optional rule, and the rules we described here only apply when players are penalized for landing over two meters from the playing surface.
If a player landed in the same spot as shown in the image above when the two-meter rule was not in effect, they could take their next shot penalty-free at the point where the X is. They could not, however, back up along the line of play (e.g., to any of the blue dots) penalty-free.
Casual Relief in Disc Golf
Sometimes courses have areas with water deep enough to cover a disc or make safe footing impossible that are not OB. Small streams or creeks or even large puddles can fit this description. These areas are called casual water. It's "casual" because you don't take a penalty stroke for landing in it.
When you land in casual water, you do not get the same unlimited relief as after an OB or two-meter penalty. You can only take relief as far back along the line of play as is needed for you to be out of the casual water and have the ability to take a legal stance.
Here's an example:
To reiterate the point: The lie shown in the visual above is the only penalty-free lie a player can have after the throw depicted. If they wanted to back up any farther, they'd be taking optional relief (which we discuss later) at the cost of one throw. This would be the same even if the first place where taking a stance was possible was uncomfortable or undesirable to throw from.
Also notice that in the case of casual water, the line of play is always based on where the disc came to rest, not where it entered the casual area. Since the disc is not in an OB area, the line of play passes through the center of the disc just as it would if a player landed in any other in-bounds position.
Disc Golf Relief Areas (806.04)
Tournament directors can make the decision to declare areas on the course relief areas according to rule 806.04. A relief area is a place where a player is not allowed to throw from but, unlike an OB area, there's no penalty for landing there.
After landing in a relief area, players take one-meter relief at the place they were last in a playable area just like they would from an OB line. However, they cannot take any more relief than that. Moving back along the line of play as far as a player wants with no penalty is not possible after landing in a relief area (see 803.02.E).
Here's a visual of how it works:
Unlike our other graphics, we didn't include a line of play here because it isn't as relevant to the situation.
If you've landed near and not in a relief area, the rules are a bit different. See the section immediately below.
Relief from OB or Relief Area (806.02.E)
If you land closer than one meter to OB or a relief area but your disc (even the tiniest part of it) is in a playable area, you can move your lie up to one meter away in a line that's perpendicular to the line indicating OB or the relief area. You cannot, however, move it in any direction you like.
The reason you can take this relief from a relief area is because 806.04 states that "a relief area is considered and played as an out-of-bounds area." That means the rule 806.02.E that allows perpendicular relief from OB also applies to relief areas.
Relief From Obstacles (803.02 A & B)
The rules also allow for players to take relief in situations when they land in-bounds but in a place that would be dangerous to themselves or others to throw from or that makes taking a legal stance impossible. We cover these relief rules in two subsections below.
Relief from People, Harmful Animals or Insects, and Motor Vehicles
If any people, harmful animals/insects, or motor vehicles are on or behind the place where your disc comes to rest ("behind" meaning farther from the basket than your disc), you can take penalty-free relief back along the line of play to the first playable (or, in the case of harmful animals and insects, safe) position. Tournament directors can also add to the list of things players can take relief from. Like relief from casual water, players do not have the option to back up as far as they like when taking relief from an obstacle.
The "on or behind" part of the rule is extremely important. As the rules are written, if a player has an obstacle in front of them (between their lie and the basket), taking penalty-free relief isn't possible. Here's an example of what that means:
Again, even when penalty-free relief is possible, remember that it can only be taken to the first location that enables play and/or makes play safe, not the position that best suits the player.
In the case of something like stinging insects (e.g., hornets or wasps), it would be up to the player's group to determine what the first safe distance from the obstacle would be:
Something important to note before we move on from this part of relief regulations is that players can't take penalty-free relief from harmful plants unless a tournament director has said so. This means players who land in patches of poison ivy or stinging nettles cannot take penalty-free relief under normal circumstances.
Relief When an Obstacle Makes a Legal Stance Impossible
On rare occasions, players land in a spot where taking a legal stance is prevented due to a solid, unmovable obstacle. When this happens, players can take relief along the line of play to the first spot where a legal stance is possible. They cannot back up as far as they like.
In the example below, a disc has landed below a statue in a position that wouldn't allow the player to take a stance behind their lie:
Keep in mind that this sort of relief is only allowed when taking a stance is impossible and not just inconvenient. Having to take an awkward stance around an object, being surrounded by small branches, or other things that are simply unpleasant or undesirable are not reasons a player can take penalty-free relief.
An important note here is that a player can never be forced to use a mini marker. For example, imagine if a player's disc landed directly in front of a tree with a very large trunk and there was no room for a player to take a legal stance behind the disc. Even if a legal stance could be taken with the use of a mini marker, the player doesn't have to use one. They can opt to take relief along the line of play to the first playable position behind the tree with no penalty if they prefer.
Optional Relief with One-Stroke Penalty (803.02 D)
The final relief rule we'll go over is so simple we don't even need pictures to explain it. If at any point a player would like to take relief along the line of play farther from the basket, they can do that at the cost of one stroke on the hole. Players might do this if they land in a thickly-wooded area or other position where they believe the stroke sacrifice could be worth it.
Though it's not technically relief, don't forget players can also opt to abandon any throw at the cost of one stroke and re-throw from their last lie.
Want More Disc Golf Rules Explained?
Are there disc rules we haven't covered that have you scratching your head? We'd be interested to know which ones. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Disc Golf Rules."
1. Technically, a player does have the chance for multiple lines of play after getting a two-meter penalty if the point on the playing surface directly below their disc is in-bounds but within one meter of an OB or relief area line. In this case, the line of play can go through any spot that is along a one-meter line extending through the point on the playing surface below a player's disc that is perpendicular to the OB/relief area line.