Rules Guy: Can you take free relief if your ball lodges into a tree marked as ground under repair?

golf ball in tree

What do the rules say about an unplayable ball within the confines of GUR?

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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.

A player in our group hit his ball into a tree, where it lodged three feet off the ground. The twist: the tree was in an area marked ground under repair. While he claimed free relief, others argued for a penalty stroke, since the ball was above the ground and utterly unplayable. —Michael T. Cumbea, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

Michael, you know the phrase, “There’s an app for that”? Well, believe it or not — believe it! — there’s a Clarification for this, specifically Ground Under Repair/2.

It states that if a tree is rooted in GUR and a player’s ball is in a branch of that tree, the ball is in the GUR. (Yes, even if the branch extends outside the defined area.)

If one decides to take free relief under Rule 16.1 and the spot on the ground directly under where the ball lies in the tree is outside the GUR, the reference point for determining the relief area and taking relief is that spot on the ground.

If instead that spot on the ground is in the GUR (or if other interference exists at that spot such as the player will be standing in the condition), that spot should be used as a reference to find the nearest point of complete relief. Sometimes, being up a tree isn’t exactly being up a tree.

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

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