3 Rulings for When Your Golf Ball Is Stuck in a Tree

Golfer trying to hit golf ball that is stuck in a tree
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So, your golf ball hit a tree next to the fairway and never came down. It's stuck up there in the branches. What are your options?

If you're like most golfers, you'll either curse your luck or get a good laugh out of the predicament. But what's the ruling? What are your options under the rules of golf?

There are three options for continuing play when your golf ball is stuck in a tree:

  • play the ball as it lies
  • declare the ball unplayable;
  • or proceed under a lost ball ruling.

Let's take a look at each of these options:

Play It as It Lies (Hit Ball Out of the Tree)

What this means, of course, is that you're willing to climb up into the tree and take a swing at the ball. And if you did, you wouldn't be the first. Sergio Garcia and Bernhard Langer both have climbed trees and played shots out of the tree.

But the odds of coming up with a decent shot in such a scenario are mighty slim. The odds of further messing up the hole are much greater. The possibility of slipping, falling and hurting yourself can't be ruled out. So this option is best left to golfers who are even crazier than you.

Declare Your Ball Stuck Up the Tree Unplayable

You can declare the ball unplayable under Rule 28, take a one-stroke penalty and, most likely, drop within two club-lengths of the ball (there are other options for continuing under the unplayable rule, but this is the most likely to be used in this scenario). 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.

But in order to use the unplayable option, you must be able to identify your ball. You can't just assume that it's up there somewhere, and you can't just assume that a ball you see in the tree is yours. You must positively identify your ball in the tree.

That might mean trying to shake it loose from the tree ​or climbing the tree simply to retrieve the ball for ID purposes. Before you do either, make sure you've announced your intention to treat the ball as unplayable. If you dislodge the ball without having made your intentions clear (to continue under the unplayable rule), you'll incur a penalty stroke under Rule 18-2a (Ball at Rest Moved) and will be required to put the ball back in the tree! (Failure to replace a ball such moved would result in an additional 1-stroke penalty.) However, if you proceed directly under one of the options of Rule 28, you need not replace the ball (see decision 20-3a/3).

So make sure you identify your ball before continuing under the unplayable option and make sure you declare your intentions before retrieving or dislodging the ball from the tree.

Implement Lost Ball Procedure

Of course, you may not be able to find a ball that has lodged in a tree, even if you know it's up there somewhere. The only option then is to accept the penalty for a lost ball and proceed under Rule 27 (Ball Lost or Out of Bounds). The lost ball penalty is stroke-and-distance; that means assessing a one-stroke penalty and returning to the spot of the previous stroke, where you must replay the shot.

Even if you see a ball up in the tree, you'll have to take a lost ball penalty unless you can positively identify it as yours.