My ball is teed up on a toupee of turf. Do I have to play it as it lies?

golf ball on grass clump

What do the rules say about playing a ball as it lies when it ends up on a detached divot?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

I’m a longtime player with a pretty solid understanding of most rules, but this situation had me stumped. I know you can’t move a ball from a divot hole. But what if, as happened to me for the first time in 30 years of playing golf, your ball ends up atop a detached divot, and thus sitting higher than the fairway grass? —Dennis Nicoski

As balancing acts go, this Titleist on a toupee is right up there with a bear on a unicycle.

The answer is far more common, indeed golf’s most common one: Play it as it lies, just as you would if your ball came to rest atop a pile of leaves.

You could, we suppose, instead get relief by taking an unplayable for a one-stroke penalty … but it’s a divot, not a landmine. Have at it and see what happens!

ball in divot
Rules Guy: If your partner asks you to mark your ball in the fairway, do you have to replace it in their divot?
By: Rules Guy

For more divot-related guidance from our guru, read on …

A player hits his drive in the fairway. When he addresses his ball for his second shot, his foot is in a deep divot left by a previous group. He sees a clump of turf a few yards ahead, retrieves it and places it in the divot, then plays his shot. By improving his stance, has he broken the rules? —John Alario, Staten Island, N.Y.

Cruelly, he has. Replacing divots is proper etiquette but doing so in this instance is breaking one of golf’s most fundamental rules, namely, playing the course as you find it.

Rule 8.1a prohibits improving any condition affecting the stroke — here, the area of intended stance — by certain actions, one of which being altering the ground surface by replacing a divot in a divot hole.

He gets our sympathy as well as the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.

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Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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