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golf ball is in a tree

What do you do if your ball is stuck up a tree?

You’ve clattered into some timber and gravity has failed to do its job. What are your options?
 

It’s golf’s equivalent of the double whammy. Not only has your shot tracked an ugly arc towards a huge copse of woodland but, worse still, while you’ve seen an explosion of leaves your ball didn’t appear to come with it. So how do you proceed without coming a cropper under the Rules of Golf? Never fear, we’ve got the answers if you find your golf ball in a tree…

Golf ball in a tree: Hit a provisional

You may think it will be all right but, even if you get under the tree and see that little white object sitting among the branches, you have to be sure it’s your ball. Hitting a provisional will save you a walk back if you can’t be sure or can’t find it.

Golf ball in a tree: Play it as it lies

You’ve always got the option to play the ball as it lies and some of golf’s strangest shots have seen players scaling the bark to have a swing.

Remember Bernhard Langer at the Benson & Hedges International at Fulford in 1981? Or Sergio Garcia fashioning a one-handed effort at Bay Hill six years ago?

This is the only option that avoids a penalty but be careful. Is it worth risking your limbs?

golf ball in a tree

Golf ball in a tree: Declare your ball unplayable

The prospect of scaling some branches doesn’t appeal and you’ve decided to take your punishment.

Rule 19 allows you to declare your ball unplayable. Again, make sure to identify your ball first – you can shake the tree to try and force it loose as long as you’ve announced it’s unplayable (otherwise you’ll pick up a penalty shot under Rule 9.4: Ball Lifted or Moved By Player).

If it is your ball, there are several relief options available, including back-on-the-line relief, but the one you’re most likely to try is lateral relief – of two club lengths – with a one-shot penalty. Be aware you have to establish a reference point.

But how to do that when the ball is in the air?

An interpretation of Rule 19.2 says: “When a player’s ball lies above the ground (such as in a bush or a tree), the player may take lateral relief by using the point on the ground directly below the spot of the ball as his or her reference point.

“The relief area is within two club-lengths of and no closer to the hole than that reference point on the ground. In some cases, this might allow a ball to be dropped on a putting green.”

Remember, Rule 19 allows you to drop the “original ball or another ball in this lateral relief area”.

So, even if you can’t get your ball down from the tree, you can use another.

Golf ball in a tree: Go back to where you hit your last shot

You saw your ball flying towards the trees but there is no sign of it.

Three fruitless minutes have been spent searching and, if you’ve not hit a provisional, it’s back to where you last played from.

Rule 18.2 says when a ball is “lost or out of bounds, the player must take stroke-and-distance relief by adding one penalty stroke and playing the original ball or another ball from where the previous stroke was made”.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below or you can tweet me.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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