Let Sleeping Divots Lie

By OGA Senior Rules Officials: Terry McEvilly and Pete Scholz

Rule 13-2.  Improving…

The world’s longest English language sentence weighs in at an astonishing length of 33 pages and 13,955 words. This month we look at Rule 13-2, which is only two sentences long -- yet each of those two sentences also carries some serious length. 

The first sentence of Rule 13-2 prohibits improving or allowing to be improved, areas of the course that might give the player a potential advantage.  Before we begin to break down this Rule, the word “improve” must be defined (Decision 13-2/0.5).  It refers to changing for the better so that the player gains a potential advantage.  Therefore, if an area is changed for the better and the change might assist the player, a breach has occurred.  On the other hand, merely changing an area protected by Rule 13-2 might not have created an advantage for the player and no penalty is incurred.  Confused yet?  Hopefully, the following questions and answers will clear up the confusion.  This month we focus on the first sentence of 13-2, which covers the prohibitions. Next month, we will look at the second sentence of the Rule, which covers the exceptions to the Rule.

Questions:  True/False

  1. A player may improve the area of his swing by removing a movable water hazard stake whether his ball is in the hazard or not.
  2.  Improving the area of the intended stance by removing an out of bounds stake results in a breach of Rule 13-2.
  3. The area in which a player must drop a ball may be improved by removing loose impediments prior to the drop but he must not eliminate irregularities of the ground. 
  4. A player who replaces a divot three yards in front of her ball and on the line of play before making a 150 yard shot has breached Rule 13-2 and incurred a penalty.
  5. A player preparing to putt his ball from off the putting green has breached Rule 13-2 if he replaces a divot on his line of play. 
  6. Damage to the fringe of the putting green, caused by the impact of a ball, may always be repaired.
  7. Grass immediately behind the ball may be matted down with a club but must not be removed. 
  8. In making a practice swing near her ball, a player knocks down a few leaves from a tree behind her ball.  There is always a penalty for improving the area of her intended swing. 
  9. Removal of dew and frost are not permitted except on the teeing ground.
  10. After a rain shower, a player, whose ball has come to rest under a branch of a tree may shake water from the branch.


  1. True. By definition, a movable water hazard stake is an obstruction and may be removed prior to a stroke being made.  This applies even if the player’s ball was in a water hazard.  However, see the following question regarding out of bound stakes.
  2. True.  An out of bounds stake is off the course and by definition it is deemed to be fixed and must not be moved.  Rule 13-2 prohibits moving anything fixed, including objects that define the out of bounds.
  3. True.  Decision 23-1/6 allows the removal of loose impediments (leaves, pine cones, etc.) from the intended area of a drop but Rule 13-2 prohibits eliminating irregularities of the ground.  Therefore, if there is a divot hole in the intended area of a drop, the player is not allowed to replace or fix the divot. 
  4.  False.  This question illustrates what is meant by gaining a potential advantage.  Replacing a divot a few yards in front of her ball when making a long iron shot is unlikely to create an advantage for the player and no penalty is incurred (See Decision 13-2/0.5).  However, see the following question.
  5. True.  A golfer planning to make a low running shot or a putt should be careful not to create or illuminate any irregularities of surface on his line of play.  In this case, it is likely that the repair of the divot has created a potential advantage for the player and a penalty is incurred.
  6. False.  Unlike the putting green, a player desiring to repair damage to the fringe of the green must be careful not to create a potential advantage by improving the lie, area of stance or swing, his intended line of play or the area he may have to drop a ball.  Proper etiquette suggest the repair be made after play of the hole is completed and before leaving the putting green.  One exception to this would be if the damage to the fringe occurs after the player’s ball has come to rest.  Such as by another player’s ball.  A player is allowed the lie and line of play his stroke gave him. 
  7. False.  It is true that the grass immediately around the ball must not be removed as doing so would improve the lie of the ball.  Additionally, it must not be pressed down behind the ball with a foot or club.  The club may be grounded lightly behind the ball resulting in some of the grass being pressed down slightly, but the club must not be pressed on ground to mat the grass.  However, the player is allowed both actions if taken within the teeing ground.
  8. False.  This is a very misunderstood concept in the Rule and a source of many arguments between golfers.  Decision 13-2/0.5 addresses this very scenario and indicates that the entire situation must be evaluated.  If there is still a significant amount of leaves in which the player must swing through, it is unlikely that a potential advantage has been gained.  However, if there were very few leaves to begin with, the player has eliminated possible interference with her swing by removing a few leaves. 
  9. True.  Rule 13-2 prohibits the removal of dew, frost and water from everywhere on the course with one exception.  We will take a more comprehensive look at the exceptions to this Rule next month but for now it is important to note that the player has additional permitted actions within the teeing ground.  One of which is that he may remove dew, frost or water and even improve the teeing ground by creating or eliminating irregularities of surface. 
  10. False.  As mentioned in the previous answer, Rule 13-2 prohibits the removal of water if it may create a potential advantage.  By shaking water from the branch, the player has eliminated the possibility of being distracted by the water falling from the branch and has incurred a penalty.  See Decision 13-2/23 for further clarity.

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