Is a bit of bark coming between you and a clean contact? Our Rules of Golf expert points you in the right direction – and reveals a bit of a twist

I like trees. It’s a good job too, because my ball has been seeing a lot of them in recent months. Anyone who’s spent enough time, though, trying to separate the wood from the, er, trees will know that it’s not just the bark and branches that can cause damage to your scorecard.

Get a particularly good specimen and their roots will spread out far and wide. Get a copse full and they are an absolute magnet for your ball.

Hitting out of a tree root isn’t any fun, so I intrinsically sympathised when James Paton sent me the following email: “Are you allowed free relief from visible tree roots if it can cause damage to you or your equipment?”

Many of you will be typing the answer right now, but there can be a little twist to this scenario that’s worth hanging around for.

So let’s see if we can find a route through… (Route. Root. Get it? I give up.)

Relief from tree roots in golf

relief from tree roots in golf

This is the classic play it as it lies situation. You might not like it, and you might fear either you or your club are going to come off the worse if you go through with it, but you’re not usually going to get free relief from tree roots.

If you don’t fancy that, and who could blame you, you can take unplayable ball relief, for a one stroke penalty. Should you go for the lateral option, you can repeat that as many times as you need to find a rootless spot. But each time it will cost you a penalty stroke.

You can always take stroke-and-distance, or back-on-the-line relief as well.

Right, so what’s the twist? As we all know, tree roots can have a life of their own. They won’t always stay where you’d think.

So what happens when tree roots expose themselves in the fairway? Is it fair to not allow free relief in that situation?

There is a Local Rule that says it may not be. Fix your eyes on Model Local Rule F-9, which allows competition committees to treat exposed tree roots in the fairway as Ground Under Repair. That means free relief is then allowed under Rule 16.1b.

It isn’t always the case that your ball must be on the fairway, either. This Local Rule can also extend to short rough close to the fairway, with committees treating “such tree roots within a specified distance from the edge of the fairway, (for example four club-lengths or in the first cut of rough)” in the same way as they would if they were on the short stuff.

Even when this Local Rule is in place, however, it need not be a free-for-all as far as relief is concerned. A committee can limit it to interference only in the area of intended swing and lie of the ball.

Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?

Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf at the beginning of 2019, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s Level 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help by featuring the best in this column.

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