Are You Allowed to Move a Golf Ball Out of Divot Hole Without Penalty?

Ball sitting in fairway divot
So your ball is sitting down in a fairway divot. How do you play that shot?. S. Greenwood/Getty Images

Don't you just hate it when you walk forward to that beautiful drive you just hit, only to discover that your golf ball has come to rest in a divot hole? What rotten luck! And so unfair. But surely the rules allow you to move your ball out of that divot without penalty, right?

Wrong. No, you cannot move a golf ball out of a divot hole even when that divot is in the fairway - at least, not without penalty. (You can declare the ball unplayable, assess yourself a one-stroke penalty, and drop.)

Why You Have to Hit Out of the Divot

This is probably one of the more disliked rules in the game by golfers of all skill levels. After all, hitting the fairway is what you're trying to do when you tee off. So you stripe a drive down the fairway, and through sheer bad luck you wind up in a divot left by another golfer. Why should you be punished for doing what you're supposed to do (hitting the fairway)?

This strikes many golfers as unfair. Isn't a divot — particularly one filled with sand — ground under repair?

No, actually, a divot is not ground under repair, at least not according to the Rules of Golf as they are currently written.

Rule 8 is titled "Course Played as It Is Found." Rule 8.1a(3) states that among "actions that are not allowed" are for the golfer to "(a)lter the surface of the ground" where her golf ball lies. That includes by (quoting from the rule):

"Replacing divots in a divot hole,
Removing or pressing down divots that have already been replaced or other cut turf that is already in place, or
Creating or eliminating holes, indentations or uneven surfaces."

Nowhere in the rules is a ball sitting in a divot otherwise provided for; no exception from "ball played as it lies" for divots exists. Therefore, there is no free relief for a ball sitting in a divot hole, even when that divot is in the middle of the fairway.

You'll just have to set up with the ball farther back in your stance than normal; take one more club than usual; put a little more weight on your front foot and use a forward press to get your hands ahead of the ball. Then hit down on the back of the golf ball and dig it out.

As mentioned above, however, another option — if you just can't stand the idea (or don't have confidence in playing the shot) of hitting out of the divot — is to declare the ball unplayable, assess yourself a one-stroke penalty, and drop.

  • Golfer trying to hit golf ball that is stuck in a tree

    Here's What to Do When Your Golf Ball Is Stuck in a Tree

  • A golf ball is stuck on a tree during the second round of the Open Cala Millor Mallorca in Spain

    What's the Ruling? Sort Out Tricky Golf Rules Situations

  • Golf Rules: What Makes a Ball Unplayable?

  • A golfer tees up his ball

    Golf Rules in Plain English: Quick Introduction to What the Rules Say

  • Illustration of the nearest point of relief

    Sweet Relief! When and How to Find the Nearest Point of Relief in Golf

  • Alex Noren points to where his ball is in the pond during the Aberdeen Asset Management Paul Lawrie Matchplay on the European Tour

    10 Common Penalties in Golf

  • A golfer creates a divot with an iron shot from the fairway.

    Let's Pivot to the Divot, As In: What Is It?

  • Golfer Playing Golf, Near 14th Hole, Korschenbroich, Dusseldorf, Germany

    Etiquette for Your First Round of Golf

  • Colored stakes golf course

    What the Colored Stakes and Lines on a Golf Course Mean

  • Laura Diaz sends a divot flying

    Be a Considerate Golfer and Learn How to Repair Divots

  • Renato Paratore takes a penalty drop during the 2016 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

    What You Need to Know About the New Golf Rules Coming in 2019

  • Peter Hanson of Sweden hits an approach shot next to ground under repair, following a landslide on the 1st hole during the final round of The Barclays Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links on July 10, 2011

    Animal Holes to Damaged Turf: What Are Abnormal Ground Conditions?

  • Michelle Wie picks up her ball after hitting into casual water in a bunker during the 2006 Women's US Open

    What Happens When You Hit Your Golf Ball Into a Bunker Full of Water

  • Golfer Rafa Cabrera-Bello ponders an unplayable ball that is under a bush.

    Here's What Rule 19 Says About Unplayable Balls in the Rules of Golf

  • Luke Donald tees off in the shadow of huge power cables at Eichenried Golf Club in Germany

    When to Do When Your Golf Shot Hits Overhead Cables

  • Marking two golf balls on the green

    Do You Know the Penalties and Procedures When Golf Balls Collide?