Rules Guy: I hit a huge bomb off the tee at my local course, but the ball started right and never turned around. I heard it hit some roughage in the woods that lined the fairway, but when I looked for my ball it was nowhere to be found. After searching for about a minute, my cart partner found my ball, but did very little to put my mind at ease: It was stuck up in a tree! I could tell it was my ball (I play a orange ones since I’m terrible at finding them), but going after the ball was pretty much not an option--it was about 20 feet off the ground at least--so I decided to take a drop. I figured that I would get a free drop straight underneath my ball, since climbing the tree would be too dangerous to be expected. My buddy countered that, even though we technically found my ball, it was actually “lost,” and that I should go back to the tee and play again. Who was right?
--James Douglass, New York, NY
I hope you and your friend didn’t spend all day arguing over who was right, because the answer is actually quite simple: You were both wrong. If you had not been able to identify your ball, your buddy would have been correct: Your ball would be considered lost and you would have to take a penalty of stroke and distance to abide by Rule 17-1. Since you were able to tell the ball was yours, however, you could instead invoke 27/14. But even then you don’t get off without a hitch. Even though your ball is not considered lost, it is considered unplayable. You can take a drop within two club-lengths no closer to the hole from underneath your ball, but you must do so with a one-stroke penalty (Rule 18).