Consider the following situation: Jan Henson hits her drive 225 yards down the middle of the fairway. Karen McCloskey duck hooks her drive into the trees and her ball lies next to some tree roots.

What decisions do these players have for their second shots?

First, Jan and Karen can "Play the ball as it lies".

Can Karen get relief from the roots considering the roots as an "impediment"?

No. The only "free" relief from natural objects is relief provided for loose impediments. A root is not loose.

Can Karen get relief from the roots considering the roots as an "obstruction"?

No. A root is not an obstruction.

Obstructions
An "obstruction" is anything artificial, including the artificial surfaces and sides of roads and paths and manufactured ice,…

Therefore, the only "relief" provided by the rules is an unplayable lie (Rule 28).

A ball may be deemed unplayable anywhere on the course, except when the ball is in a water hazard.

Who can declare the ball unplayable?

The player is the sole judge as to whether the ball is unplayable. Jan can deem her ball unplayable in the middle of the fairway if she wants, she wouldn’t but she could. There is no criteria except what a player decides fits her game, her ability and the situation. That obviously means that what is unplayable to one player is not to another and it only costs one stroke to exercise the privilege.

Karen declares her ball unplayable. She has 3 options for playing her next shot. For each of these options, she may clean her ball. She may even replace the ball with a different ball.

Option 1:

Take your drop as nearly as possible from where you played the last stroke. (One Stroke Penalty)


This is the classic "stroke and distance" penalty. If you hit from the tee box, you may tee it up again on the tee box.

Karen hit her tee shot from point A. Choosing Option 1 she would be hitting her third stroke from point B.

Option 2:

Drop the ball behind the point at which the ball has come to rest, keeping that place between you and the flagstick. You may go back as far as you wish. (One Stroke Penalty)


Note: Mark the position of the unplayable lie before you pick up the ball to help you line up the drop.

Karen hit her tee shot from point A to position B in the trees. Choosing Option 2 she would be hitting her third stroke from a position like point C.

Option 3:

Drop the ball within two club lengths either way, no nearer the hole. One exception, if you are in a bunker, you must drop in the bunker. (One Stroke Penalty)


Note: Mark the position of the unplayable lie and the two club length distances left and right with tees before you pick up the ball.


Karen hit her tee shot from point A to position B in the trees. Choosing Option 3 she would be hitting her third stroke from a position like point C. Be careful here as you would not be allowed a second drop without penalty if the dropped ball comes to rest next to the roots again.


What if the unplayable lie is in a bunker (sand trap)?

Karen hit a shot from point A that landed in the face of a bunker at point B. She declares her ball unplayable.

She can choose Option 1 and return to point A to drop the ball.

She can choose Option 2 and drop a ball behind B at a position like point C. However, the "as far back as you want" is only within the margins of the bunker.

She can choose Option 3 and drop the ball within two club lengths either way, no nearer the hole at a position like point D. However, if two club lengths places the drop out of the bunker, the rule does not permit a drop outside the bunker.

Next is a quiz to see if you have been paying attention.

In the diagram shown to the left, A ball is hit from point A to one of the points B through H. At which of these points can a player declare the ball unplayable (B through H)?


Answer: None of them because every point is within the boundaries of a water hazard (whether bounded by a red or yellow line), the only place on a course where you cannot deem the ball unplayable.



And finally,

Any breach of Rule 28 results in a 2 stroke penalty in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.