If you've been watching the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, you've no doubt heard about or seen players hitting golf balls offline, seeing them hit into the tall cypress trees and get stuck.
They'll show several replays, including in slo-mo, of the ball going into the tree's canopy, getting stuck and never coming out. Turns out, this is a rather common occurrence at this golf course and throughout parts of California and the Pacific Northwest.
Golf balls get stuck in trees in other places around the world, too. The Rules of Golf are pretty clear about how players should handle when a a golf ball gets stuck in a tree, and it's often not friendly to the player.
When a golf ball is known or virtually certain to be known to have gotten stuck in a tree, the Rules of Golf application depends entirely on if the golfer can find and identify their ball in the tree. If, including through use of binoculars, a golfer can identify their ball stuck in a tree, then they have three options:
- Play the ball from the tree itself by climbing into it and then hitting it out. Sergio Garcia is one of a few famous examples of players who have done this in Tour events.
- Take an unplayable lie from the spot in the tree where the ball is stuck. That means a player can first declare they're going to take an unplayable lie (a must, because if you move the ball before you declare this, you'll incur another one-stroke penalty), shake or remove the ball from the tree, then take two clublengths of relief from the base of the tree with a one-stroke penalty.
- Declare the ball lost. The player may then go back to the original spot of the previous shot and hit it again after taking a one-stroke penalty.
If the player cannot find and identify the golf ball stuck in a tree within the three-minute searching period, then they only have one option: declare the ball lost. They must go back to the previous position of the last shot, replace the ball with a one-stroke penalty and hit it again.