June 01, 2021

Rules of Golf - Palm Tree Moves A Ball

Written by:  Darin Green, Senior Director of Rules & Competitions

Last Thursday I received a call from some FSGA volunteers who were officiating a qualifier for the 104th Florida Amateur Championship at The Falls Club of the Palm Beaches. They had a very unique situation that required several of us to put our heads together and determine the correct ruling.

A player’s tee shot came to rest under a palm tree. The palm tree had a dead palm frond that was hanging downwards, but still attached to the tree. It was hanging down and even touching part of the ground. It was breezy that day and when the wind gusted, the palm frond swung side to side and actually moved the player’s ball around. The question was, should the ball be replaced or played from the new location after the wind and palm frond moved the ball?

First, since the palm frond was still attached to the tree it was not a loose impediment. Even though it was dead, since it was still attached to the tree, the player was not allowed to move the palm frond except while fairly taking his stance causing minimal movement to the frond.

The second question we considered is “what caused the ball to move...the wind or the tree?” If the wind caused the ball to move, you play the ball from its new location (unless the ball was on the putting green and previously been marked and lifted). If the tree caused the ball to move then the ball must be replaced, but why?

To answer these questions we buried our heads into the Rule Book. The most overlooked section of the Rule Book is the Definitions section; many answers are found in the Definitions. The definition of Outside Influence includes “any natural object, except natural forces.” So, the palm tree is an outside influence.

We then went to Rule 9.6 Ball Lifted or Moved by outside Influence. The Rule specifies that if a ball at rest is later moved by an outside influence there is no penalty and the ball must replaced. We thought “ok, but what about the wind moving the outside influence?” We needed to dig further.

Finally, we found Interpretation 9.6/1 – Outside Influence Moved by Wind Causes Ball to Move. This interpretation clarifies that even though wind caused the outside influence to move the ball, the Rules treat the movement of the ball to be caused by the outside influence, not the wind. So, the ball must be replaced to the original spot the ball came to rest before the palm frond moved the ball.

When a difficult rules question arises, it is best to take your time and pool together all available resources. 

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