There are times during a round when the rules allow you to restore the pearly white finish to your golf ball, but there are times when you can’t. See if you know the difference by answering “can” or “can’t” to the following scenarios about whether it’s OK to clean your golf ball. — Ron Kaspriske

1. A sliver of the ball is on the putting green, but the rest is on the fringe.

2. Before your tee shot, you address a ball, waggle the club and accidentally knock the ball off the tee.

3. Your ball plugs in two-inch-high rough and has a wad of mud attached to it.

4. After hitting into a water hazard, you decide to take a penalty stroke and pick the ball up.

5. Your ball is interfering with your opponent’s stance, so he asks that you mark and lift it.

6. Your ball is covered in wet grass clippings and want to remove it to determine whether it’s yours.

7. You mark your ball’s position in the rough and pick it up after play is suspended because of a thunderstorm. Now it’s time to resume play, so you replace the ball back in the rough.

8. While searching for your ball, you find it next to a mower parked by the maintenance shed, and the mower interferes with your stance. You can’t move it, so you decide to take relief.

9. You’re playing in a scramble, and it’s your turn to hit from the fairway. Your ball was scuffed a little from the tee shot, and you want to restore its luster.


1. Can (rule 16-1b, definition: putting green). If any part of the ball is touching the putting green, it can be lifted and cleaned after marking its position.

2. Can (rule 11-3).
The ball is not yet in play on that hole, so it’s OK to clean.

3. Can’t (rule 25-2, definition: through the green). A ball plugged in grass higher than fairway height (closely mowed) can’t be cleaned under the embedded-ball rule.

4. Can (rule 26-1).

5. Can’t (rule 22-2).

6. Can (rule 12-2). Just don’t remove any more clippings than necessary to identify it.

7. Can (rule 6-8d).
You can also mark, lift and clean a ball you left on the course during the delay.

8. Can (Rule 24-2b).
A ball to be lifted for relief can be cleaned no matter if an obstruction like a mower or cartpath is movable or immovable.

9. Depends. Scrambles are often not recognised as a format under the Rules of Golf. The scramble’s co-ordinators need to determine if you can clean your ball in this situation.


Say you hit a ball that goes bounding down the cartpath. It’s pretty scuffed up, but there are no visible cracks, and the ball is still as round as when you bought it. Can you replace it during play on a hole?

No. A ball is not unfit for play solely because of scuff marks or scrapes, or the paint is damaged or discolored (Rule 5-3). And remember, if you lift a ball to inspect it to see if it’s too beat up to keep using, do not clean it. If you do, it’s a one-stroke penalty.