Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Why No Relief from Divot Holes?

One of the most commonly asked questions by recreational golfers is, “Why is there is no relief from a divot hole on the fairway?”. Their case is that it is unfair that a player should be disadvantaged because their ball comes to rest in a divot hole left by another player. The easy answer to this is that a fundamental principle of golf is that you play your ball as it lies. This has been the case since golf was first played, over 250 years ago, on natural, untended land, long before closely mown fairways and manicured putting surfaces became the norm. Many of these early courses were links, where the undulations of the dunes meant that even a perfectly struck shot could be roll from the centre of the fairway into deep rough. Golf is not a game where a perfectly struck shot is guaranteed a perfect result and that is part of its fascination, as a participant or spectator sport.

However, let us say that the Ruling Bodies decided that players should get relief from divot holes (it’s not going to happen!); what would have to be taken into account? A major difficulty would be defining what constitutes a divot hole. Here are some questions that would have to be considered and resolved by players during their round;

  • Is there relief from all divot holes or should the depth of the hole be taken into account? 
  • Is there relief from old divot holes? E.g. should there be relief for a 2-weeks old divot hole that has not fully recovered?
  • Is there relief for a ball that sits on a badly repaired divot hole, where only part of the divot had been replaced, or it had not been properly flattened?
  • Is there relief from divot holes that have been filled with sand?
  • Is there relief from areas where then the surface grass has been scraped away by the club, but there is little or no damage to the earth below?
  • Is there relief for a ball that sits just in front, just behind, or just to the side of a divot hole, if it could possibly affect the player’s stroke?
  • Is there relief for other imperfections in the playing surface, such as cracks in hard, dry earth, or tyre ruts made by course maintenance vehicles?
  • Is there relief from divot holes in the rough, as well as those on the fairway?
  • If relief is to be permitted, must the player place or drop their ball and within what distance from where it came to rest? 
  • Who decides whether relief is available, the player, the marker, or a majority of those playing in the group?
  • Edit 20th February 2014: Several readers have suggested another valid reason why relief should not be permitted for divot holes on the fairway. If there was such a relief, it would probably act as a disincentive for players to follow the proper etiquette of replacing or repairing their own, or other players', divot holes during their rounds.
Now, what do the Rules have to say about divot holes? Not only is there no relief from them, but Decision 33-8/34 makes it clear that Committees must not make a Local Rule permitting relief, without penalty;
Q. May a Committee make a Local Rule providing relief without penalty from divot holes or repaired divot holes (e.g., holes that have been filled with sand and/or seed mix)?

A. No. Such a Local Rule would modify Rule 13-1 and is not authorised.

I’ll leave the final word to David Rickman, Director Of Rules at R&A, who when asked  this question,
“And just what is a divot? There'd be a big debate - it would go on and on.”
responded with this telling comment;
“Exactly. The good shot that ends up in a bad lie - that frustrates people, we understand that. But the bad shot that ends up in a good lie is accepted more readily. It's all part of golf's challenge, and I think very good players can deal with it. I'd be astonished if there were any movement here as there's no sympathy within the Rules of Golf Committee for changing that fundamental principle.”
Good golfing,
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Muffybean said...

You say there is no relief from a divot hole and cannot be made so under local rules. We, like many golf clubs in the winter have a local rule where we have relief and can place a ball within 6" of its original position not nearer the hole. I play on a links course and it is not unusual to be in or touching a new/old divot hole in the winter and we are permitted under the local rule to place the ball under the above procedure, so as such we can take relief under a local winter rule to take relief. The idea is to protect the course from playing from older divot holes and enlarging them with no chance of any recovery or growth until spring.

Therefore under our winter rule the answer to Q. May a Committee make a Local Rule providing relief without penalty from divot holes or repaired divot holes (e.g., holes that have been filled with sand and/or seed mix)? Although it may not be purely on a divot local rule it is not under a winter rule and can get relief from a divot hole, unless we are wrong in allowing such relief.

Justoldsticks said...

Absolute right on the button!

Barry Rhodes said...


A Committee may make a Local Rule to permit taking relief when there are adverse conditions, including the poor condition of the course or the existence of mud. As emphasised in my article, Decision 33-8/34 makes it clear that a Committee must not make a Local Rule permitting relief from divot holes, without penalty.

Any competition played with such a Local Rule in place will probably make any rounds ineligible for handicapping purposes. You should advise the Committee to check with your national golfing authority.


Mat said...

Barry, isn't landing in a divot on a green a situation from which you get relief?

Wouldn't one then say that I can identify a divot in a closely mown fairway the same way.

Devil's advocate, but I think the winter rule as stated prior "scorecard length" relief isn't unreasonable given that:

1) a shot is in the fairway
2) taking a shot from a divot is more detrimental to the course/grounds than otherwise
3) fairness applies on the closely mown green, therefore closely mown "fairway" may be just as easily granted

I'm not sure that I fully agree with it, but I fully want the slow group in front of me to take a better shot. I'm not happy with 5 hour rounds, and casual rules should be acceptable for purposes of handicap (maybe up to a 5?) and anything that helps courses is good in my book.

Brian said...

Hi, One of the best additional reasons, I have heard (not covered by the Rules, I think) for denying relief from divot marks is to do with maintenance of the course. If you allow relief, then you are likely to end up with twice as many divot holes on the course, and in time. twice as likely to find yourself in one!

Barry Rhodes said...


Good point.

A few years ago, My Club requested all players to carry a sand bag to repair any divots that are made and it has has had a noticeably positive effect on the state of our fairways.


bob said...

I was playing a match with Bill who never replaced his divots. My highlight of the day was when his ball ended in someone else's divot hole, and the air was blue for ten minutes as he cussed out the unknown player who had not replaced his divot. Nobody ever more deserved to have his ball end in a divot hole. All the other players that day heard about it, and were pleased too.bob

Barry Rhodes said...


To answer your points;

You are confusing a divot hole, which is the damage mede by a club after a stroke, with a ball-mark (pitch-mark). One would not normally see a divot hole on a putting green, but if you did, there is definitely no relief from it.

If a temporary Local Rule for Preferred Lies (Winter Rules) is in operation, a player may coincidentally get relief from a divot hole by placing their ball within the permitted area. But this applies to all areas covered by the Local Rule, e.g. it still applies if your ball is sitting-up on pristine fairway, it is nothing to do with the divot hole.

Your comments on slow play are not relevant to divot holes. One could argue that offering relief would slow down play while the player marked their ball, cleaned it and replaced it.

If you and your friends want to make up your own rules for casual play, that is fine, but the game that you are playing is not golf and would not count for handicapping purposes.


Anonymous said...

There is a limited form of indirect relief from a divot hole in some circumstances. Eg, in stroke play, Player A plays B's ball, which is a wrong ball, taking a large divot. B must place a ball on the spot from which the wrong ball was first played (R15-3b), which implies placing in the divot hole. However, as the lie has been been altered and assuming the original lie was known and it was not in a hazard, B must place a ball in the nearest lie most similar as detailed in R20-3b.
I'd like to pose a question relating to a different situation - the one where Tiger Woods famously attracted a penalty for failing to drop his ball as near as possible to where the previous shot was made. The player hits from fairway into a water hazard short of the green, carving out an impressive divot, and elects to play under R26-1a, dropping a ball as near as possible to where the previous shot was made. The ball bounces into the new impressive divot hole and is not nearer the hole than the previous shot position. Is there any relief available in this circumstance?
I also presume it would not have been legitimate for the player to repair the large divot before the drop?

Barry Rhodes said...


Presumably, Tiger's caddie replaced/repaired the divot hole made by Tiger's stroke before he chose to play from where he had previously played from. Decision 13-2/4.5 rules that in the circumstance when their divot was replaced the player was unaware that they would be required to drop a ball in the area. Therefore, in equity (Rule 1-4), they are not penalised. If the divot had not been replaced/repaired the player must not do so before dropping their ball, Rule 13-2.


Peer Blakeley said...

It seems ridiculous to me that one can take relief, and in doing so also possibly improve your line (say from behind a tree), from the most insignificant "rabbit scrape", whereas a perfectly positioned ball on the fairway is not allowed relief if it is in a one inch deep divot hole!
Professional and top level players have the luxury of having the course perfectly manicured with caddies meticulously repairing divot holes as they proceed. If they had to play on courses that we lesser mortals have to contend with then I'm sure that their voice would be forcibly put (and listened to) in favour of allowing relief.
If golfers are to be trusted to determine what is a "rabbit scrape", then they should equally be trusted to quickly determine what is an unrepaired divot hole!