[PHOTO: Fred Vuich]

At this time of year in tropical and high-rainfall areas, mud on a golf ball is an issue golfers have to deal with. Well, maybe not the pros so much. Competitive tours often enact a Model Local Rule that enables players to lift their ball, clean it and replace it on soft-and-soggy days. Everyday golfers have the right to a little help, too, so check with your course or tournament committee on whether Model Local Rules E-2 (cleaning a ball) or E-3 (preferred lies) are being used. We’ll explain more about both in a bit. We’ll also cover how to play when you’re out there to battle the elements without any preferred lies – like Bishop Pickering in “Caddyshack”.

To be clear, we’re only going to discuss here what the Rules of Golf permit or prohibit when you find mud on your ball.

Let’s start with this: if no Local Rules are in effect, you have to play a ball with mud on it (Rule 8 and 9 address this concept generally). Of course, on a putting green, you can mark your ball, lift it and clean it (Rule 13). You also can lift and clean your ball when it’s embedded in the general area of a course (Rule 16.3). The general area is most of the golf course including the rough, but does not include the teeing area you’re starting from and the green of the hole you’re on, any penalty areas and all bunkers.

Photo: Warren Little

To be clear, the general principal of Rule 8 is to “play the course as you find it”. But there are times when you’re allowed to lift your ball and clean it beyond the putting green. Two examples would be when you’re taking free or penalty relief. Say your ball is up against one of those irrigation-control boxes covered in mud. You’re entitled to relief from the box, and when you take that relief you’re also allowed to lift your ball and clean it before dropping it back into play. Same thing goes if you’re taking an unplayable lie – go ahead and spiff up your ball (while adding the penalty stroke) – or taking relief for a ball in a penalty area.

But here are some examples under Rule 14 when you CAN’T clean your ball:

• To see if it is cut or cracked – cleaning is not allowed.

• To identify it – cleaning is allowed only as needed to identify it.

• Because the mud interferes with play – cleaning is not allowed.

• To see if the ball lies in a condition where relief is allowed – cleaning is not allowed, unless you then take relief.

Rules Review: Are you smart enough to ace this basic rules quiz?

Another thing to remember is that you have to mark the position of your ball before lifting when a rule requires you to replace it on its original spot. You can mark your ball with things such as a tee, a coin and most artificial objects, but don’t mark your ball with a pine cone, leaf, twig (natural stuff), or it’s a one-stroke penalty.

OK, so now on to the Model Local Rules. E-2, if in place, says you can enact lift, clean and place procedures for any ball in the general area of the course. E-3 is similar, but restricts lift, clean and place procedures to parts of the course in the general area that are cut to fairway height or lower. This is what the PGA Tour does on soggy days.

Photo: David Cannon


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