Rules Column: Pat Campbell

Know what to do when your ball is muddy

It’s spring, the temperatures are rising, and the golf courses are calling your name. There are a couple of conditions common to spring golf in the Pacific Northwest…. mud and goose poop. Knowing what you are allowed to do in these situations within the Rules of Golf is useful and might even win you a bet or two at the 19th hole even if you never have to apply them.

The first step is to find out if your course or your competition group has established any kind of local rule(s) for lift, clean and place for balls in muddy conditions. The local rule could be for: 1) the course in general, 2) only a ball on the fairways or even only for 3) a specific hole which is prone to wet conditions. If there is no local rule in place, you play your ball as it lies. Some folks like to claim a muddy ball is embedded, fair enough, just be certain that the ball is embedded in its own pitch mark. If you have seen it bounce and roll, it’s not embedded in its own pitch mark.

If lift, clean and place is in allowed, that is exactly what you are entitled to do: lift your ball, clean it and place it back on its spot on the course. The wording of “preferred lies” adds the additional provision of placing it on a “better lie,” usually within a club length. Check the wording and smile!

You may be playing with purists who feel the concept of “play the course as you find it and your ball as it lies” is the true test of golf. Your ball looks muddy, what are you allowed to do? Not a lot; if you can identify it as yours, you play it as it lies. If you can’t identify it Rule 7.3 says you are allowed to lift the ball (mark it first! and clean it enough to identify it. When you return it to the course you may position it so that the remaining mud is facing away from your club face, but you cannot tee it up using the mud as a tee.

Now, let’s look at the goose poop issue. No, it really doesn’t qualify as a dangerous condition, sorry. It’s much like the mud on your ball. If you can identify it as your ball, you are to play it as it lies. If you cannot identify it, Rule 7.3 gives you authorization to lift the ball (again, mark it first!), clean it enough to identify it, and return it to its location on the course. Once again you can position the remaining droppings away from your club face but cannot tee the ball up on it. In both cases, keep your mouth closed when you hit the ball, you’d hate to get a splat of mud or poop!

Just a note, cleaning it more than enough to identify it is a one stroke penalty. Secondly, if you fail to mark it first, you have a one stroke penalty and you can now clean it all you want. Plus, you always have the option of declaring it unplayable for one stroke and now you can clean it all you wish, or substitute another ball, and play it in a different location under any of the three options available under Rule 19. It’s always worth considering.