Ask the Rules Guy: How to Navigate Tree Trouble on the Course
Dear Rules Guy: Here's a scenario I'll bet you've never run across. My ball came to rest in a rooted area behind a tree with low-hanging limbs. Although I had to take a crouched stance, it was possible to advance the ball. Alas, I whiffed. My clubface hit the tree and struck my ball on the rebound, sending it backwards 15 yards—into a perfect lie. Can I just play on from this position? —WAYNE BRATSCHI, TAMPA BAY, FLA.
Sorry, you can't play this one as it lies. Let's start with the whiff. Because you intended to hit the ball, the club's forward movement is considered a stroke, even though you missed. Plus, you incur a one-stroke penalty for inadvertently moving your ball, per Rule 18-2. And you must replace the ball where it was. From there, one option is to play it (again) as it lies. But if you feel twice shy after being once bitten, you can declare it unplayable, add another stroke, and drop either behind the spot where the ball lies, in line with the hole, or within two club lengths from where the ball lies, not nearer the hole. If you do take the unplayable, don't choose stroke and distance. Here, so-called relief would only return you to the exact spot where you whiffed, but with a penalty stroke.
Rules Man: At our club championship, my shot came to rest against chicken wire that was wrapped around a small tree next to the green. My ball was on the side of the tree closest to the green, so the tree impeded my swing. Do I get relief? —BILL WALSH, TEMPE, ARIZ.
Wow, Firestone doesn't have as much tree trouble as this month's Rules Guy. Bill, if by "small" tree you mean "young," the Committee may protect it from damage by adopting the Local Rule in Appendix I; Part A; Item 2b. If this is the case, and the tree interferes with your stance or the area of your intended swing, relief can be taken without penalty, akin to an immovable obstruction. Just drop the ball within one club-length of—and not nearer the hole than— the nearest point of relief. Alternately, if this Local Rule is not in effect and the wire has been declared an integral part of the course, you don't get relief without penalty and may play the ball as it lies. Or you can proceed under Rule 28, which gives you three options, all with a one-stroke penalty: stroke and distance; a drop within two club-lengths of the spot on which the ball lies, not nearer the hole; or a drop as far as you like along the line between the hole and where the ball lies.
Rules Guru: In a match, my opponent's second shot to a two-tiered green embedded in the face of the green's upslope. He marked, replaced—and his ball rolled into the hole! He wanted to card an eagle 2. I argued that marking the ball ended the stroke and that this "roll" was a separate stroke. Who's right?—JOHN ELLIOTT, VIA E-MAIL
The debate is halved: You're both incorrect, says Decision 20-3d/1. When replacing a ball, it must come to rest on that spot; if it doesn't, you must try again. The ball rolling into the hole is unexpected but irrelevant. If it doesn't stay put the second time, find the nearest possible spot where it can be placed at rest, not nearer the hole and not in a hazard—even if that's off the green.
Got a question about the rules? Of course you do! Whatever it may be, send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org and the question may be answered in an upcoming issue of GOLF. Until then, play by the Rules!