Here’s the scenario: you are just off the green and in a perfect spot to play a little bump-and-run shot. Although it’s about 10 paces away, you notice there’s a divot hole that hasn’t been repaired. If your ball bounces into the hole, it could be deflected to the left or right of your target. Can you fix the hole before hitting your shot?
The short answer is no—nor can you remove recently repaired grass or tap down grass in a divot hole to ensure it won’t impact your next shot. You also can’t repair a pitchmark or any other uneven surface on your line if it’s off the green. All of this is covered in Rule 8.1 and comes with the general penalty for a violation (loss of hole in match play or a two-shot penalty in strokeplay). To be clear, you can remove loose impediments on your line of play, but if it’s something like a weed, and it’s growing, plucking it out of the ground is a penalty.
Albeit rare, this rule is even violated by professionals. Annika Sorenstam was penalised at at the 2006 LPGA Championship for removing some sod in a divot hole that was deemed to improve conditions affecting her next stroke.
So now that you know you can’t go full greenskeeper on the land in front of your shot, here are a few things to remember about this rule:
1. It is not a penalty if it’s unlikely your actions on the line of play would give you a potential advantage in playing your next stroke. For example, there’s a divot hole several metres in front of you on your line of play that you repair before hitting a 150-metre shot into the green.
2. It is still a penalty if you improve conditions on your line of play for a particular type of shot, even if you opt for a different type of shot that would not have been impacted by the improvement. For example, going with a lofted wedge shot instead of that bump-and-run in the scenario that began this article.
3. It is not a penalty if you repair damage on the putting green (Rule 13.1c(2)) regardless of whether your ball is on or off the green. So if you’re worried about that pitchmark on the green impacting that bump-and-run you’re about to hit, go ahead and repair it.
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