Rules Guy: My ball landed on a detached divot. Do I get a free drop?

golf ball next to divot

What do you do when your ball is essentially teed up in the fairway, sitting atop 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 of 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!

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

A buddy of mine recently chunked an approach shot so badly that he laid the sod over his ball — literally. A toupee of turf, still connected to the ground, flopped over on top of his Titleist, rendering it pretty much unhittable. Given that this impediment wasn’t “loose,” was he still entitled to free relief?
—Josh Brown, Oakland, Calif.

The dreaded toupee, no better suited to the golf course than to the bald pate … As you suspect, an attached divot isn’t a loose impediment, so there’s no free relief on offer for this rather comical calamity. Your pal must either play the ball as it lies — near impossible, apparently — or, if the ball is in the general area, take unplayable ball relief under Rule 19 for one penalty stroke.

If the ball was in a penalty area, penalty area relief would likewise be available under Rule 17, also for one penalty stroke. The problem with attempting to move the divot in this scenario is that it’s essentially impossible to do so without improving the player’s conditions affecting the stroke — and doing that results in the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play.

Like a toupee itself, that’s adding insult to injury.

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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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