What Is The Golf Rule If My Ball Gets Stuck Up A Tree?

We explain the options available to a player after a ball gets stuck up a tree.

What Is The Golf Rule If My Ball Gets Stuck Up A Tree?

With the 2020 PGA Championship heading to TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, one of the key images you will see on your television screens is the presence of large cypress trees that line many of the holes and frame them.

Related: 2020 PGA Championship Tee Times

These trees look great and are one of the course’s distinguishable features, however they are to be avoided at all costs during competition.


Well these trees are known to gobble up golf balls to the point where they can embed themselves into them or just get caught up in the limbs and branches.

Before the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Match Play, which TPC Harding Park hosted, Jordan Spieth said; “I’ve seen enough (balls) get stuck to where I’m going to try my hardest to avoid cutting off doglegs too much.”

Related: How To Play TPC Harding Park

So what happens if this occurs and what is the official ruling for when any golf ball gets stuck up in a tree or a bush above the ground? What are your options if this happens to you?

Well, as tricky a shot as it may be, the player always has the option to play the ball as it lies. Sergio Garcia climbing up into a tree during the final round of the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill is a prime example. However, it may not always be the player’s best option, as Garcia demonstrated by injuring himself in the process and having to withdraw two holes later.

Looking at the other options available, if the player has identified their ball, they are entitled to take unplayable ball relief under Rule 19, which, for one penalty stroke, allows the player three options.

Firstly, a player can take stroke-and-distance relief by going back to the spot where they last played and dropping a ball within one club-length of that point, no nearer the hole, or if they are returning to the tee, they can play a ball from anywhere within the teeing area.

Secondly, the player may take back-on-the-line relief by dropping a ball in a relief area which is again, one club-length no closer to the hole, at a point on the course which is on a direct line going straight back from the hole through the spot of the original ball.

The final option is to choose lateral relief. Usually, this would involve dropping a ball within two club lengths of the spot where the original ball lay. However, doing this when your ball is 20 feet off the ground in a tree might not be the easiest thing to do, so the Rules make an exception for this situation.

When a player’s ball lies above the ground, in a bush or a tree for example, the player can take lateral relief by using the point on the ground directly below their ball as their reference point.

The player would then be entitled to drop the ball within two club-lengths of that point, no closer to the hole. It’s also worth remembering that when taking relief in this situation, the Rules allow a player to substitute a ball, so there’s no need to go climbing to retrieve the original.

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