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What Happens If Your Golf Ball Gets Stuck in a Tree?

Getting a golf ball stuck in a tree is disastrous enough. But don’t expound on the bad luck with additional penalties. Let’s review what options you have in retrieving it and playing your next shot.
Golf Ball Stuck in Tree

Golf is a sport that requires precision, accuracy, and patience. However, even the most skilled golfers can face challenges that are out of their control, such as getting their ball stuck in a tree (one positive: at least you found your golf ball!). While it may not be a common occurrence, it is still important for golfers to understand the rules and procedures around retrieving their ball from a tree to avoid any penalties or disqualifications. In this article, we will explore the rules around getting your ball stuck in a tree in golf.

Options If a Golfer’s Ball Becomes Lodged in a Tree:

1)    Play it as it lies or

2)    Declare the ball unplayable

Playing the Golf Ball as It Lies

Playing the ball as it lies means that the golfer must hit the ball from where it is in the tree without moving it or the tree. This is only allowed if the ball is still in the tree and not yet considered to be out of bounds or lost. However, playing a ball from a tree can be challenging, and it is essential to take care not to cause any damage to the tree or the surrounding area.

Also be careful of your own safety, as a mis-hit may cause you to strike a solid object which may ruin your clubface or clubshaft or even worse, injure yourself.

Declare the Golf Ball as Unplayable

On the other hand, a golfer can declare their ball unplayable if they are unable or unwilling to play it as it lies in the tree. In this case, the golfer has three options for proceeding under penalty of one stroke:

  1. Play another shot at the spot where the previous shot was taken.
  2. Drop the ball within two club-lengths of where the ball lies, but no closer to the hole.
  3. Drop the ball on a line between the spot of the previous shot and where the ball lies, going back as far as the player wants as long as the ball is dropped within two club-lengths of that line.

It is important to note that if the ball is declared unplayable and dropped, it cannot be dropped closer to the hole than where it originally lay in the tree. Additionally, if the ball is deemed to be out of bounds or lost while in the tree, the golfer must proceed under the applicable rules for those situations.

Another important rule to remember is that if a golfer’s ball becomes lodged in a tree, they are allowed to identify it without penalty. This means that the golfer can approach the tree and confirm that the ball is theirs without incurring any penalties. However, they must be careful not to touch the ball or cause any damage to the tree or the surrounding area while doing so.

Is it Legal to Climb a Tree to Retrieve a Golf Ball?

Firstly, it is essential to understand that golfers are not allowed to climb trees to retrieve their ball. The reason for this is that it poses a significant safety risk to the golfer and those around them. Climbing trees can also damage the tree and disturb the course’s natural environment, which goes against the principles of golf as a sport that values respect for nature and the environment.

Do I Get Relief From a Tree Stump?

According to the Rules of Golf, players are entitled to take a free drop if their ball comes to rest on or near a tree stump that interferes with their stance or swing. To take a free drop, the player must determine the nearest point of complete relief from the interference, which is the spot where the player can place the ball and not be interfered with by the tree stump. The player then drops the ball within one club length of that spot, no nearer the hole.

You can also continue to play the ball as it lies, but be careful not to injure yourself or your club. If you’re not sure, just take the free drop.


Getting your ball stuck in a tree in golf can be frustrating, but it is important to understand the rules and procedures around retrieving it. The last thing you want to do after an errant shot and bad luck is to expound it with a penalty or disqualification.

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V Tongwarin

Visanu Tongwarin or “Coach V” is a Class A PGA Teaching Professional at Legacy Ridge Golf Course and Walnut Creek Golf Preserve in Westminster, Colorado. V's brings his passion for teaching the game of golf to all levels of golfers from running children clinics to training state champions and seasoned professionals.