We had two separate players on different teams report that their ball came to rest under the limbs of a dead tree branch on hole 17 this past week. Both players reported that the main branch of the limb was still up in the tree but the “crown” of the branch had fallen into the rough and was in bounds and their ball had come to rest under this part of the dead tree branches. A similar image as described by both players is shown below. It’s not known if the same tree applied to both players, but one player indicated the limb was still attached to the tree, the other player said the limb was completely severed from the tree but the main branch was still resting in the tree…. One player took a penalty and line of flight back to play the next shot, the other player was given a free drop by his opponent to nearest point of relief…. What’s the correct ruling?
“Impediments” and obstructions can be broken down into those that can be moved (loose impediments and moveable obstructions) and those that cannot. Impediments are natural objects such as stones, leaves, branches, insects etc…. to be considered “loose,” they cannot be fixed, growing, or solidly embedded. Loose impediments, may be removed without penalty unless in a hazard or the ball is in motion. The ball must not move when you remove a loose impediment. You may obtain help in moving the impediment.
Obstructions are anything artificial including cart paths, direction signs, buildings, sprinkler heads or control boxes, ball washers, etc….similar to the previous article, where the nearest point of relief may be taken unless the obstruction defines out of bounds…ie, fence, stakes etc., in a hazard, or special rules apply if the obstruction is on the green.
We could not locate any rule that allows for an “impediment” to be considered an obstruction except where construction has turned a log into a bench or similar item. As such, if the limb is attached to the tree, it is not a loose impediment and the ball would be played as it lies, unless the player declares it unplayable. When playing near bushes or tree’s, a player is allowed to “fairly take their stance” in the least intrusive manner. A player is not allowed to improve his position or lie of the ball by intentionally breaking live branches, stepping or tucking branches to improve the swing path. It doesn’t appear that either player involved was able to “take a stance” under the branches involved.
If the limb is severed (and dead), then the player can declare it an impediment and physically move the limb obtaining assistance if needed to move it, but there is no provision for even a very large limb that has fallen on the course to be “an obstruction” so “nearest point of relief” is not an option.
For most instances, if a ball is declared unplayable “through the green” (not in a bunker, water hazard, or on the green), the player has three options under USGA rules:
• Replay the prior shot with one stroke penalty
• Drop within two clubs lengths not nearer the hole with one stroke penalty
• Drop on a line back, keeping the ball location between the hole and spot where the ball is dropped. (Note – this has nothing to do with line of flight of the prior shot).
Our league plays by USGA rules unless otherwise indicated so these three options apply as well.