Saturday, 7 February 2009

Ball Lodged in Tree – What Are Your Options?

I saw an item on a TV news station last week of a caddie climbing a palm tree to recover his player’s ball, which was stuck in the branches of the tree. Unfortunately, I did not hear who, or where it was. Why would the caddie do this when players receive as many golf balls as they can use from their sponsors, free of charge?

The answer lies in the Rules of Golf. In the unlikely situation that the ball is at rest on a branch it is possible that the player could play it from there and not incur any penalty. As you can see here Bernhard Langer did it quite successfully back in 1981;

However, in most instances climbing the tree is not practical. The remaining options for the player are to declare the ball unplayable, under penalty of one stroke, or treat it as lost and go back to where the last stroke was played from, under penalty of stroke and distance. In order to declare the ball unplayable, which is usually the most favourable option for the player, they must be able to identify their ball. Hence, we have the situation where the caddie is climbing the tree. It is not sufficient to identify that there is a ball stuck in the tree, the player must be able to positively identify it as the ball that he is playing.

If the player can identify his ball from the ground then he is permitted to declare it unplayable and may then shake the tree to dislodge it. However, if he moves the ball without having declared it unplayable he is penalised one stroke, under Rule 18-2a, and is required to replace the ball back in the tree where it was, or incur a further penalty stroke in stroke play or loss of hole in match play (see Decision 18-2a/28). The player does not have to recover the ball from the tree once he has positively identified it as Rule 28, Ball Unplayable, says that the player must drop a ball (not the ball) to continue play of the hole.

Where does the ball have to be dropped, assuming the player takes the most likely option of dropping within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole? The spot from which you measure the two club-lengths is that spot on the ground directly under where the ball rests in the tree.

Finally, it is worth reminding readers here that the player may deem their ball unplayable at any place on the course, except when the ball is in a water hazard.

I will be posting my new video on Rule 28 - Ball Unplayable, next week, so please bookmark this page in your favourites now.

Wishing you good golfing and play by the Rules,

Barry Rhodes


RW chopper said...

IMO you DO NOT need to positively identify the ball as yours before shaking it down

There is no penalty for declaring a ball thats not yours as unplayable .....therefore by doing so you avoid the penalty under rule 18 even if your not sure its yours

Barry Rhodes said...

Barry's reply

You've certainly got me thinking on this and I now believe that you are correct.

Decision 18-2a/27, Ball Dislodged from Tree; Circumstances in Which Player Not Penalized, states;

"Q. A player whose ball is lodged high in a tree wishes to dislodge it by shaking the tree or throwing a club so that he can identify it and proceed under the unplayable ball Rule. Is this permissible?

A. Yes. The player should state his intention before taking such action to avoid any question being raised as to whether a penalty would be incurred under Rule 18-2a."

So, providing the player states his intention first it seems that he does not have to positively identify his ball before shaking the tree.

I'm learning all the time. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I have had it happen twice, once last summer and once the summer befor on a different course. I did not know the rule and did not take a stroke penalty and declare unplayable. Now I know.


Anonymous said...

Hi again - thanks for this ruling (by email today). If the ball which drops from shaking the tree is not the player´s, and he doesnt find his, (although it is evident that the ball is lodged in the tree) must he declare a lost ball and replay from where he last played the last stroke?

Barry Rhodes said...


Yes, if you cannot find and identify your ball anywhere on the course the only option is to return to where you last played from, under penalty of stroke and distance.


Anonymous said...

What is the situation if someone else shakes the ball loose for the player?
Can the ball really be lost if you can see it?

Barry Rhodes said...


To answer the second part of your question first; a ball is lost if you cannot identify it. It is not enough to see a ball in a tree, as there may be several balls lodged there, you must be able to identify it as yours. Another good reason to always put recognisable identification mark on all your balls.

Decision 18-1/9 answers the situation where someone else knocks your ball from the tree for you.

Q. A player's ball is lodged in a tree about eight feet off the ground. A spectator knocks the ball down from the tree. In complying with Rule 18-1, it is impossible to replace the ball in the prescribed manner in the tree because the spot where it lay in the tree is unknown or unreachable. What is the ruling?

A. Rules 20-3c and -3d cover cases in which the spot where a ball is to be placed or replaced is not determinable or a ball fails to come to rest on the spot on which it is placed. However, these Rules do not contemplate a case such as this one. Thus, in equity (Rule 1-4), if the position of the ball in the tree was such that the player could have made a stroke at it, the ball must be placed in the tree as near as possible to the spot from which it was moved, without penalty. Otherwise, the player must proceed under the unplayable ball Rule.


Jay Clifton said...

Barry, there are also options a and b in Rule 28 for resuming play after declaring your ball unplayable.

Barry Rhodes said...


Of course, that is why I said, "Where does the ball have to be dropped, assuming the player takes the most likely option of dropping within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole?


Sam said...

If a ball in a tree is declared unplayable and then shaken down and it turns out NOT to be the players ball I presume since his ball has been declaed unplayable he must take a penalty drop. e.g if he finds his ball not in the tree for example he could not simply play his ball!

Barry Rhodes said...


When a player thinks that a ball lodged in a tree may be theirs, they are wise to declare it unplayable before they shake the tree to try and get it to fall to the ground; otherwise they are penalised one stroke under Rule 18-2a for causing their ball to move and must replace the ball where it was in the tree. If this is impracticable they must deem it unplayable and take another penalty stroke under Rule 28. If the ball that drops to the ground is not the player’s ball and they do not find their own ball then they must play another ball under penalty of stroke and distance, Rule 27-1. However, Decision 18-2a/27 clarifies that a player may deem their ball unplayable before it is identified, so as to avoid a penalty under Rule 18-2a if they cause their ball to move by shaking a tree. If they subsequently find their original ball, not in the tree, they may continue play with it without penalty.


Stewart said...


With respect to Sam's query, I note that the ball shaken down that does not belong to the player (assuming it is not a recent arrival from another fellow-competitor) is a movable obstruction (as identified in your useful list elsewhere on your website) so there are no direct consequences from moving it!

I have also seen interesting footage of Bernhard Langer (what is it with him and trees?), I think on the R&A site, showing his ball in a tree overhanging a green in a tournament in South Africa. He declared it unplayable and his caddie climbed the tree and confirmed it was his ball, he then dropped under the 2 club lengths option vertically below the ball on the fringe of the green and 2 putted from there.

On my own course, the most common place to get your ball stuck in a tree is in young bushy ones that are white staked as immovable obstructions - a time-limited free drop until they get big enough for the stakes to be removed.

One further comment - it might also be possible for a ball to be stuck in a tree such that identification is not possible but the ball is still accessible. In such a possible (although maybe unlikely) scenario, the player could follow the Rule 12-2 procedure to identify the ball. In such a case, the player may need to be a little creative in the way the ball is marked.

Ashok Bhanot said...

Ball as per Caddy hit the Palm Tree and struck there. Ball can be seen but can not be identified. Ball can not be retrieved by climbing, shaking or by putting your hand there because of thorny conditions.
What is the decision? Please advice.
Is it the player who has to be convinced that it is his ball or opponents have to be convinced or referee has to be convinced?
What is the meaning of virtually certain that it his ball?

Barry Rhodes said...


The ball is lost, because it cannot be positively identified. If a provisional ball has not been played the player must return to where they last played from under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 27-1). The fact that the caddies saw the ball hit the tree and a ball can be seen is not relevant, as there may be other balls previously lost in the tree, or the ball may have bounced out several yard into rough. However, if someone saw the ball hit the tree and drop through the branches until it came to rest, without losing sight of it at all, then their testimony may be accepted and the player may deem the ball unplayable for a penalty of one stroke and proceed from there (Decision 27/12). If there is any doubt at all as to whether the ball in the tree was the one played then the player must consider it lost. If a referee cannot be sure of the positive identification then the ruling goes against the player, as the referee's decision is final (Rule 34-2).


Anonymous said...

Ok so ball is lodged in tree, but the Club has a Local Rule of Preffered lies on for the day of 30cm/1 foot. So under the preffered lie ruling can you still use your preffered lie of 30cm after marking it without penalty ?

Barry Rhodes said...


A properly worded Local Rule, following the specimen in Appendix l, Part B, should specify that a player is entitled to prefer the lie of the ball when the ball lies on a closely-mown area through the green, which does not permit relief for a ball above the ground in a tree.