This was our most-read rules question of the year

This Rules Guy question had readers *very* interested.

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The Rules of Golf are endlessly fascinating, and supply seemingly bottomless fodder for those of us who are interested in the game’s sometimes befuddling intricacies.

GOLF’s Rules Guy column is a popular hub for players looking to get an accurate ruling on their most confounding on-course conundrums. And this particular inquiry from September generated a huge amount of interest: Is it permissible to flatten the grass behind the ball with your club? Read on for the question and answer in their entirety.


With all the rain we’ve had this year, the rough has been extremely hard to escape. I’ve noticed people basically flattening the grass behind their ball during their pre-shot routine. I am sure this is a penalty but don’t know which one, or what the penalty is. Yet this is okay to do on the tee box, yes? If so, why?
—John Bowman, Westerville, Ohio

The teeing area is treated different under the rules because … well, it just is.

For starters, you’re allowed to tee the ball up there, and nowhere else, right? If you want to create some sort of irregularity of surface by, say, pressing down on the ground behind the tee, that’s kosher, too. So, let’s leave the tee box out of this because, once we’re past that, we’re playing the ball as it lies.

A player is allowed to lightly ground the club right in front of or behind the ball, which means just setting it down enough to support its weight. If that’s all a player’s doing, even if it creates an improvement to the lie there is no penalty — see Rule 8.1b. If, however, a player goes beyond that (say, from light tapping to mush-mush-mushing) and creates an improvement, under Rule 8.1(a) it’s the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.

Should your opponent or fellow competitor disagree with your penalty call (we’ll assume he or she hasn’t called the penalty on him or herself), the committee will need to step in and adjudicate.

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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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