Rules Guy: If a ball gets stuck in a tree, is it considered lost or unplayable?

golfer looking for ball in tree

What do the rules say about golf balls getting stuck in trees?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

When a ball gets hit high into one of the many palm trees around here, it often gets stuck and does not come down. Is it considered lost or unplayable? — Beth Gemmill, Sarasota, FL

So much for what goes up must come down, eh, Beth?

The ball is lost if you can’t find it in the prescribed 3-minute search time; see “Definition of Lost.”

If you can find it and are able to ID it as yours (and, yes, you can use binoculars and such if possible and you’re not a tree-climber), you could decide to take unplayable ball relief under Rule 19.2.

With a one-stroke penalty, you can take stroke-and-distance relief, back-on-the-line relief, or lateral relief. Rules Guy’s father would make a joke about using your tree-iron, but Rules Guy himself is far too sophisticated for that.

For more tree-related guidance from our guru, read on …

golf ball in tree
Rules Guy: Can you take free relief from an animal hole in a tree?
By: Rules Guy

My tee shot lands under a tree, and my practice swings tell me I can’t hit a fairway wood due to overhanging branches. I opt for a mid-iron, but on my backswing the club gets tangled in a branch. As I start my downswing, the club stays caught and I complete my swing without a club in my hands. Is that a stroke? I said yes, as I intended to hit the ball. Others said no, because you can’t swing at a ball without a club. — Dave Haggbloom, New Port Richey, Fla.

Dave, you left out the part where everyone fell to the ground in hysterics! Still, you’re in luck.

If the club never moved forward, you never started the downswing — forward movement of the hands without a club is not a stroke.

See definition of stroke: “The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball.”

To repeat: not a stroke, merely hilarious.

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Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.


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