Golf Ball In A Tree - Unplayable Ball

Unplayable Lie – Unplayable Ball

Rules & Regulations

Rule 28 – Ball Unplayable

This is one of the most commonly used rules, yet unfortunately it is quite often confused or misused.

It came up in a recent round so I thought i’d refresh my own knowledge and hopefully help some others at the same time.

If you would like to skip straight to an example click here

R&A Rules of Golf state:

The player may deem his ball unplayable at any place on the course, except when the ball is in a water hazard. The player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable.

What do i do with an unplayable ball?

On deciding that your ball is unplayable you have 3 options:

  1. Return to your previous position & play again from there, this could be the tee box.

    This can be done provisionally to speed up the game, if you think you might struggle to find your ball.

    Drop another ball and tell your playing partner(s) you are playing a “provisional ball”. This simply means if you cannot find your first ball you have already taken your penalty and can continue playing your provisional ball.

    If the first ball is then found, you can pick up your provisional ball and continue playing the first ball.

  2. Take a penalty drop anywhere within 2 club lengths but no nearer the hole.
  3. Take a penalty drop as far backwards as you like keeping the position of the ball in line with the flag.


The penalty for all 3 options is the same, loss of one stroke.

Unplayable Ball in Bunkers and Hazards

You cannot declare a ball unplayable if it is within a hazard, there are other rules on how to handle hazards depending whether they have red, yellow or white stakes.

While you can declare a ball unplayable within a bunker you must drop the ball within the same bunker, meaning your options for where you can drop the ball will be very limited.


In this example, we have tee’d off from the yellow marker on a par 3.

The ball has finished right behind a tree at the red marker and is unplayable.

Unplayable Lie - Unplayable Ball

Our 3 options are:

  1. Play again from the yellow marker.
  2. Drop the ball within 2 club lengths of the red marker but no nearer the hole.
  3. Drop the ball backwards in line with the flag & the red marker.

The green locations on the image show area’s the player can now play from, in each situation the player would be playing their 3rd shot.

Unplayable Lie Example - Unplayable Ball Example

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