Rules Guy: My ball got dirty rolling through ground under repair. Can I clean it before hitting?

Golf ball that is covered with dirt and grass, possibly from being hit into the rough

Can you legally clean a golf ball that acquires debris from rolling through ground under repair? Rules Guy has the answer.

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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 was recently caddying for a fellow club member at the club. His tee shot initially landed in ground under repair, picked up a ton of mud, then eventually settled in the fairway. We knew for certain that the mud came from the GUR. Is he thus allowed to clean his ball, or must he play it as it lies? — Mike DeAngelo, Miami, FL

Does your mudroom care where the mud on your shoes came from? Neither do the Rules of Golf, lest its waters be irredeemably muddied.

The player is allowed to clean the ball when it is lifted except in four specific cases (see Rule 14.1c), but you only get to take advantage of that penalty-free cleaning when you’re allowed to lift the ball. In the situation you’ve described, your player didn’t have the right to do so.

If he did lift the ball, he’d be in breach of Rule 9.4b, earning himself one penalty stroke (and replace the ball, please), but, hey — he’d get to clean it.

Rules Guy: When playing lift, clean and place, can you move the ball with your club?
By: Rules Guy

To stay penalty-free, the mud must stay put. Were he to attempt to clean the ball while it’s on the ground and managed to successfully do so without deliberately touching the ball — good luck with that! — he’d still potentially be guilty of a breach of Rule 8.1 by improving his conditions affecting the stroke.

Just play the ball as it lies and right after impact yell, “Mudball!” with one’s best Bubba Watson impression.

For more ball-cleaning guidance from our guru, read on …

As my friend and I were approaching his tee shot in the fairway, a fox trotted out of the woods, sniffed the ball and then urinated on it. Is my friend allowed to clean or replace the ball? —David Cole, via e-mail

Well, presumably unlike the now “marked” golf ball, the rules here are cut and dried. In equity, the player is entitled to the lie present when the ball came to rest.

Thus, your friend may lift and clean the ball. If there is, um, “casual water” present, the player can take relief under Rule 25-1, which also allows the ball to be cleaned (and disinfected).

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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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