Ask the Rules Guy: Balls in trees and backyards

Ask the Rules Guy: Balls in trees and backyards


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DEAR RULES GUY: I hit my tee shot wide left into a reasonably small tree. When I got to the tree I could clearly see my ball hanging on one of the branches. Can I play it from there?
Jonathan K., via e-mail

You’ve got a couple of options. As long as you can definitively identify your ball in the tree, you can declare it unplayable. Under Rule 28c you can drop within two club lengths from the spot under your ball (no nearer the hole), with a penalty of one stroke. The bolder option is to play the ball as it lies. As long as you can strike the ball fairly, you can take that uppercut swing from the ground, but you also have the option of climbing up in the tree and putting club to bark. Just make sure you don’t shake the ball loose on your way up—that’ll cost you a stroke for moving a ball at rest (Rule 18-2a). Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to go out on a limb.

One hole on my home course is a par 4 with a lateral-hazard down the right side of the fairway. Approximately 10 yards right of the lateral hazard stakes is a property fence. The card rules indicate that all property fences surrounding the course mark 'Out of Bounds.' When I slice a ball over the fence that has also crossed the margin of the lateral hazard, can I take my drop next to the hazard?

Terry G., via e-mail

If your ball was lying in the lateral hazard, you would be correct in following Rule 26-1c, taking your drop two club lengths from where the ball last crossed the hazard line. However, this procedure only applies when you know (or are virtually certain) that the ball is in the hazard. Otherwise the ball is out of bounds and you must abide by Rule 27-1b, which incurs the dreaded penalty of stroke and distance. Go back to the tee and think about 3-wood this time.