Rules Guy: Is it a penalty if I break a tree branch with my backswing?

golfer in trees

what do the Rules say about breaking branches with your backswing?

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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.

If I dislodge leaves or break a branch during my backswing, do I incur a penalty? — Robert Santoli

If a tree falls and no one hears it, is it still a loose impediment? What is the sound of one hand gauging wind direction? We digress.

Rule 8.1b covers actions you’re allowed to take even if you improve one of the conditions affecting your stroke, and you’ll be pleased to learn that there is no penalty in the case of you breaking something that creates an improvement during a backswing for the stroke that you go on to make.

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

club hitting tee
Rules Guy: Can you take a practice swing with a tee in the fairway?
By: Rules Guy

My ball comes to rest on a tree limb. I can identify it. The limb is directly over an out-of-bounds boundary, and there’s a breeze. Due to the swinging of the limb, sometimes my at-rest ball is in bounds and sometimes it’s not. My opponent says, “Dude, it’s OB!” I say — as the limb swings back in bounds — “It’s an unplayable lie, and I’ll take my penalty stroke and drop right here, in bounds, under the limb.” What say ye? — Dennis Smith, Little River, S.C.

Happens all the time, Dennis…

Seriously, though, once the ball comes to rest out of bounds it is out of bounds (even when in the tree branch), the player is required to take stroke and distance — even if the ball subsequently moves back onto the course.

The only way you could take unplayable ball relief is if you were to do before the first time the ball moved out of bounds due to the swinging limb and breeze. And that’s not Rules Guy blowing hot air. 

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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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