The question that this scenario raises is whether a player may move the branches before playing their stroke, or not. The first point for me to make is that no relief is available; any part of a tree is natural and cannot therefore be an immovable obstruction, which only applies to artificial objects. However, if any part of the tree is completely detached, it is a loose impediment, notwithstanding its size. The first sentence of Rule 23-1 states;
Except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard, any loose impediment may be removed without penalty.Of course, the player must take care to ensure that they do not cause their ball to move while removing a loose impediment, or they will incur a penalty of one stroke, under Rule 18-2a, and the ball must be replaced. Thanks to Tiger Woods and the 2,000 lb boulder (see this blog), most of us know that it is permissible to obtain assistance from anyone to remove a large loose impediment. However, if there is no assistance on hand to move the large, loose impediment, it is permissible for the player to break off any part of it that interferes with their stroke. Decision 23-1/4 confirms;
Q. If part of a large branch which has fallen from a tree (and thus is a loose impediment) interferes with a player's swing, may the player break off the interfering part rather than move the whole branch?So, in the photo above, the player of ball X may remove all of part of the detached branch lying beside their ball, providing they can do so without causing their ball to move.
The situation with the branch that is still attached to the tree is different. Rule 13-2 prohibits a player from improving their intended stroke by moving, bending or breaking anything growing. Because the branch is still part of the tree it is deemed to be growing. This is the case even if a branch is dead and still attached to a tree.
Decision 23-7 conveniently sums up the main point of this blog;
Q. Is a fallen tree a loose impediment?It’s Whistling Straits Again!
A. If it is still attached to the stump, no; if it is not attached to the stump, yes.
I cannot see or hear the name, Whistling Straits, without being reminded of the penalty that Dustin Johnson incurred when grounding his club in one of the 1,000+ bunkers on this rugged course, which probably cost him the PGA Championship, 5 years ago. Click here for a reminder of his breach. I understand that the area that contained the infamous ‘non’-bunker is now covered by a corporate stand! If only it had been there in 2010! As you watch the 2015 PGA Championship unfold, be aware that Whistling Straits is the host venue for the 2020 Ryder Cup matches.
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