Purpose of Rule: Rule 8 covers a central principle of the game: “play the course as you find it”. When the player’s ball comes to rest, they normally have to accept the conditions affecting the stroke and not improve them before playing the ball. However, a player may take certain reasonable actions even if they improve those conditions, and there are limited circumstances where conditions may be restored without penalty after they have been improved or worsened.
Course Played as It Is Found
Player’s Actions That Improve Conditions Affecting the Stroke
Examples of Actions That Are Likely to Create Potential Advantage
Examples of actions that are likely to improve the conditions affecting the stroke (that is, likely to give a player a potential advantage) include when:
A player repairs a pitch-mark in the general area or replaces a divot in a divot hole a few yards in front of their ball on the line of play before making a stroke that might be affected by the pitch-mark or divot hole (for example, a putt or a low-running chip).
A player's ball lies in a greenside bunker, and the player smooths footprints in front of the ball on their line of play before playing a short shot intended to be played over the smoothed area (see Rule 12.2b(2) - When Touching Sand Does Not Result in Penalty).
Examples of Actions Unlikely to Create Potential Advantage
Examples of actions that are unlikely to improve the conditions affecting the stroke (that is, unlikely to give a player a potential advantage) include when:
Before making a 150-yard approach shot from the general area, a player repairs a small pitch-mark, smooths a footprint in a bunker or replaces a divot in a divot hole on their line of play several yards in front of the ball.
A player's ball lies in the middle of a long, shallow-faced fairway bunker, and the player smooths footprints several yards in front of the ball and on their line of play before playing a long shot over the smoothed area (see Rule 12.2b(2) - When Touching Sand Does Not Result in Penalty).
Player Who Improves Conditions for Intended Stroke in Breach Even If Different Stroke Is Made
If a player intends to play a ball in a certain way and improves the conditions affecting the stroke for that particular stroke, and the penalty cannot be avoided by restoration, the player is in breach of Rule 8.1a whether they go on to play the ball in that way or plays it in a different way that is unaffected by that improvement.For example, if a player breaks a branch that interferes with their area of stance or swing for an intended stroke when a stance could have been taken without breaking the branch, a penalty cannot be avoided by playing the ball in a different direction or by taking relief to a different location where that branch would have had no effect on the stroke. This also applies if a player broke the branch when starting a hole and moved to a different location within the teeing area.See Rule 8.1c for whether a penalty may be avoided by restoring improvedconditions.
Example of Moving, Bending or Breaking an Immovable Obstruction
Part of a fence that is situated out of bounds (and so is not a boundary object) leans onto the course and the player pushes it back into an upright position. This action breaches Rule 8.1a, which prohibits a player from improvingconditions affecting the stroke by moving immovable obstructions. The player gets the general penalty unless the player restores the conditions by returning the fence to its original position before their next stroke as permitted by Rule 8.1c (Avoiding Penalty by Restoring Improved Conditions).In such a situation, although Rule 8.1a prohibits moving, bending or breaking the immovable obstruction, the player has the option to take free relief from interference by the part of the immovable obstruction that is leaning onto the course under Rule 16.1b (Relief from Abnormal Course Conditions).
Building Stance by Positioning Object Such as Towel Is Not Permitted
The definition of "stance" includes not only where a player places their feet to stand, but also where the player's entire body is positioned in preparing for or making a stroke.For example, a player is in breach of Rule 8.1a for improving the area of intended stance if they place a towel or other object on a bush to protect their body while making a stroke.If a player needs to play from their knees because the ball is under a tree, and the player places a towel on the ground to avoid getting wet or dirty, the player is building their stance. But a player is allowed to wrap a towel around their waist or put on rain gear before kneeling to play the shot (see Rule 10.2b(5) - Physical Help and Protection from Elements).If a player has positioned an object in a way that is not allowed but realizes the mistake before playing the ball, the penalty may be avoided by removing the object before making the stroke, so long as there has been no other improvement to the conditions affecting the stroke.
Altering Surface of Ground to Build Stance Is Not Permitted
A player is allowed to place their feet firmly in taking a stance, but is in breach of Rule 8.1a if they alter the ground where the stance will be taken if altering the ground improves the area of intended stance.Examples of altering the ground that are likely to improve the conditions affecting the stroke include:
Knocking down sand on the side of a bunker with a foot to create a level area to stand on.
Excessively digging feet into soft ground to gain a firmer foundation for the stance.
A player is in breach of Rule 8.1a as soon as they have improvedconditions by altering ground conditions to build a stance and cannot avoid a penalty by attempting to restore the ground conditions to their original state.The restriction on altering the ground (Rule 8.1a(3)) does not include removing loose impediments or movable obstructions from the area of intended stance, such as removing large amounts of pine needles or leaves from where a player will stand to play the ball.
Player May Probe Near Ball to Determine If Tree Roots, Rocks or Obstructions Are Below Surface of Ground, but Only If This Does Not Improve Conditions
Rule 8.1a does not prohibit a player from touching the ground within an area covered by the conditions affecting the stroke, so long as those conditions are not improved.For example, without improving any of the conditions affecting the stroke, when the ball lies anywhere on the course, a player may probe the area around the ball with a tee or other object to see whether their club might strike a root, rock or obstruction below the surface of the ground when the stroke is made.However, see Clarification 12.2b/2 if the player probes sand in a bunker to test the condition of the sand.
Altering Surface of Ground in Relief Area Is Not Allowed
Before dropping a ball to take relief, a player must not replace a divot in a divot hole in the relief area or take other actions to alter the ground surface in a way that improves the conditions affecting the stroke.However, this prohibition applies only after the player becomes aware that they are required or allowed to drop a ball in that relief area.For example, if a player plays a ball, replaces the divot and only then realizes that they must or may play again from there under penalty of stroke and distance because the ball is out of bounds, is in a penalty area, is unplayable or that a provisional ball should be played, the player is not in breach of Rule 8.1a if that replaced divot is in the relief area.
When Divot Is Replaced and Must Not Be Removed or Pressed Down
Rule 8.1a(3) prohibits improving the conditions affecting the stroke by pressing down, removing or repositioning a divot in a divot hole, which is treated as part of the ground (and not as a loose impediment), even if it is not yet attached or growing.A divot has been replaced when most of it, with the roots down, is in a divot hole (whether or not the divot is in the same divot hole that it came from).
Player Allowed to Put Movable Part of Immovable Obstruction Back in Intended Position
Rule 8.1a(2) prohibits placing a movable obstruction into position to improve the conditions affecting the stroke. However, this restriction does not apply to returning a movable part of animmovable obstruction to its intended position.For example:
If a sprinkler head is popped up, the player may push it down before playing the ball as the sprinkler head is not in its intended position.
If a drain cover has been removed or dislodged, the player may return it to its intended position.
In both cases, there is no penalty under Rule 8 even if this improves the conditions affecting the stroke. (Added July 2023)
Player Allowed to Dig in Firmly with Feet More Than Once in Taking Stance
Rule 8.1b allows a player to place their feet firmly in taking a stance, and this may be done more than once in preparing to make a stroke.For example, a player may enter a bunker without a club, dig in with their feet in taking a stance to simulate playing the ball, leave to get a club, and then dig in again with their feet and make the stroke.
Examples of “Fairly Taking a Stance”
Although a player is allowed to play in any direction, they are not entitled to a normal stance or swing and must adapt to the situation and use the least intrusive course of action.Examples of actions that are considered fairly taking a stance and are allowed under Rule 8.1b even if the action results in an improvement include:
Backing into a branch or a boundary object when that is the only way to take a stance for the selected stroke, even if this moves the branch or boundary object out of the way or causes it to bend or break.
Bending a branch with the hands to get under a tree to play a ball when that is the only way to get under the tree to take a stance.
See Clarification 8.1b/3 for when a player gets a penalty for doing more than is necessary to take a stance.
Examples of Not “Fairly Taking a Stance”
Examples of actions that are not considered fairly taking a stance and will result in a penalty under Rule 8.1a if they improve the conditions affecting the stroke include:
Deliberately moving, bending or breaking branches with a hand, a leg or the body to get them out of the way of the backswing or stroke.
Standing on tall grass or weeds in a way that pushes them down and to the side so that they are out of the way of the area of intended stance or swing, when a stance could have been taken without doing so.
Hooking one branch on another or braiding two weeds to keep them away from the stance or swing.
Using a hand to bend a branch that obscures the view of the ball after taking the stance.
Bending an interfering branch in taking a stance when a stance could have been taken without doing so.
Improving Conditions in Teeing Area Is Limited to Ground
Rule 8.1b(8) allows a player to take actions to improve the conditions affecting the stroke in the teeing area. This limited exception to Rule 8.1a is intended to allow a player to only alter physical conditions on the surface of the ground inside the teeing area itself (including removing any natural objects that are growing from there) whether the ball is teed or played from the ground.This exception does not allow a player to improve the conditions affecting the stroke for their tee shot by taking actions outside the teeing area, such as breaking tree branches located either outside the teeing area or when they are rooted outside the teeing area but are hanging over the teeing area and may interfere with the area of intended swing.
Player Smooths Bunker to “Care for the Course” After Playing Out of Bunker
After a ball in a bunker is played and is outside the bunker, Rules 8.1b(9) and 12.2b(3) use care for the course to allow the player to restore the bunker to the condition that it should be in, even if the restoring improves the player's conditions affecting the stroke. This is true even if the player's action is deliberately taken both to care for the course and to improve the conditions affecting the stroke.For example, a player's ball comes to rest in a large bunker near a putting green. Not being able to play towards the hole, they play out backwards towards the teeing area with the ball coming to rest outside the bunker.In this case, the player may smooth the areas that they had altered as a result of playing the ball (including footprints getting to the ball) and may also smooth any other areas in the bunker, whether created by the player or those that were already present when the player arrived to play from the bunker.
When Damage That Is Partially On and Partially Off Putting Green May Be Repaired
If an individual area of damage is both on and off a putting green, the entire area of damage may be repaired.For example, if a ball mark is partially on and partially off the edge of the putting green, it is unreasonable to allow a player to repair only the portion of damage on the putting green. Therefore, the entire ball mark (both on and off the putting green) may be repaired.The same applies to other individual areas of damage, such as animal tracks or hoof marks, or club indentations.However, if a portion of damage extends off the green and is not identifiable as part of the damage on the green, it may not be repaired if the repair improves the conditions affecting the stroke.For example, an entire shoe print that starts on the putting green and extends off it may be repaired. However, if one shoe print is on the putting green and another shoe print is off the putting green, only the shoe print on the putting green may be repaired as they are two separate areas of damage.
Examples Where Player Is Allowed to Restore Conditions Altered by the Actions of Another Person or Outside Influence
Examples of when restoration is allowed include when:
A player's line of play is worsened by a pitch-mark in the general area that was made by a ball played by someone else after the player's ball came to rest.
A player's lie or area of intended stance or intended swing is worsened when another player's stroke creates a divot or deposits sand, soil, grass or other material on or around their ball.
A player's ball in a bunker lies close to another player's ball in the bunker, and that other player's stance or swing in making the stroke worsens one or more of the player's conditions affecting the stroke.
In all such situations, the player is allowed to restore conditions without penalty, but is not required to do so.
Player Is Entitled to Have Loose Impediments or Movable Obstructions Left Where They Were When Ball Came to Rest
Generally speaking, a player is entitled to the conditions affecting the stroke that they had when the ball came to rest. Any player may move loose impediments or movable obstructions (Rules 15.1 and 15.2), but if this worsened the conditions affecting the stroke of another player, that player may restore the conditions by replacing the objects under Rule 8.1d.For example, a player has a downhill putt and picks up loose impediments between their ball and the hole but deliberately leaves some behind the hole. Another player removes the loose impediments behind the hole that might have served as a backstop for the player's ball.Since the player's conditions affecting the stroke have been worsened, they are allowed to replace the loose impediments.
Examples of Conditions Altered by a Natural Object or Natural Forces Where Player Is Not Allowed to Restore Worsened Conditions
Rule 8.1d does not allow a player to restore the conditions affecting the stroke that were altered by natural forces (such as wind or water).Examples of when restoration is not allowed include when:
A branch falls from a tree and alters the lie of the player's ball or the area of their stance or swing, without causing the ball to move.
A signpost or other obstruction falls over or is blown into a position that alters one or more conditions affecting the stroke. See Rule 15.2 (Movable Obstructions) and Rule 16.1 (Abnormal Course Conditions) for what relief might be available from the obstruction.
Player Is Not Allowed to Restore Conditions Affecting the Stroke When Worsened by Caddie or Another Person at Player’s Request
A player is not allowed to restore the conditions affecting the stroke if the conditions are worsened by the player themself.This also includes when the conditions are worsened by the player's caddie or partner or another person taking an action that is authorized by the player (except that a player may always restore the conditions affecting the stroke that have been worsened by a referee).Examples of situations where the conditions could not be restored include:
The player's caddie or partner walks across a bunker to get a rake and leaves footprints in the sand that worsen the player's line of play, or
The player asks another person to remove a gallery control rope and, in removing the rope, a branch that had been held back by the rope is freed and worsens the area of the player's intended swing.
If Player Enters a Bunker on the Line of Play They Must Not Restore Worsened Conditions
Players should be careful when taking actions that might affect the conditions affecting the stroke because worsening these areas means that the player must accept the worsened condition.For example, a player is taking relief from an abnormal course condition behind a bunker and the dropped ball rolls into the bunker. If the player creates footprints while walking into the bunker to retrieve the ball to drop it again, they are not allowed to restore the bunker to its previous condition if doing so would create an improvement under Rule 8 because the player was responsible for worsening its condition.In such a case, the player could use another ball for the second drop (Rule 14.3a) or take additional care when retrieving the original ball to avoid worsening the conditions affecting the stroke.
Player’s Deliberate Actions to Alter Other Physical Conditions to Affect the Player’s Own Ball at Rest or Stroke to Be Made
Examples of Player’s Deliberate Actions to Improve Other Physical Conditions Affecting Their Own Play
Rule 8.2 applies only to altering physical conditions other than the conditions affecting the stroke when the player's ball is at rest on the course or when they do not have a ball in play.Examples of a player's actions listed in Rule 8.1a (Actions Not Allowed to Improve Conditions) that would be a breach of Rule 8.2 if taken to deliberately improve other physical conditions to affect their own play (except as expressly allowed in Rules 8.1b or c) include when:
A player's ball is just short of the putting green and, although their line of play is straight at the hole, the player is concerned their ball might come to rest in a nearby bunker. Before making the stroke, the player smooths sand in the bunker to make sure of a good lie if the shot to be played goes into the bunker.
A player's ball lies at the top of a steep hill and, because the player is concerned that the wind might blow the ball down the hill away from the hole before they are able to play it, the player deliberately presses down the grass at the bottom of the hill in case the ball might come to rest there.
Player’s Deliberate Actions to Alter Physical Conditions to Affect Another Player’s Ball at Rest or Stroke to Be Made
Both Players Are Penalized if Physical Conditions Are Improved with Other Player’s Knowledge
If a player asks, authorizes or allows another player to deliberately alter physical conditions to improve their play:
The player acting on the request will get the general penalty under Rule 8.3, and
The player who requests, authorizes or allows the improvement will also get the general penalty under either Rule 8.1 (Player's Actions That Improve Conditions Affecting the Stroke) or 8.2 (Player's Deliberate Actions to Alter Other Physical Conditions to Affect the Player's Own Ball at Rest or Stroke to Be Made), whichever applies.
For example, in stroke play, unaware of the Rules, Player A asks Player B to break a branch from a tree that is on Player A's line of play and Player B complies; both players are penalized. Player A gets two penalty strokes for a breach of Rule 8.1 because Player B broke the branch at the request of Player A. Player B gets two penalty strokes for a breach of Rule 8.3.