Golf balls get dirty. They spend a lot of time on grass, in sand and around mud, and golf balls tend to pick up some organic matter from where they lie.
Sometimes, that means golf balls have debris -- particularly mud -- on them, and that matter can affect how far and straight a golf ball flies. It can be frustrating for golfers.
Do the Rules of Golf allow a golfer to clean their ball?
Under the Rules of Golf, a golfer is allowed to clean their golf ball, but they're only allowed to do so in specific portions of the golf and in specific situations.
Golfers are allowed to clean their golf ball in four situations.
- When a golf ball is on the putting surface, a golfer is allowed to clean the ball. The golfer must first mark their ball, pick it up off the ground and then clean it before replacing it to hit their next shot. If a golfer doesn't mark their ball before cleaning it, it's a penalty. A golfer also cannot mark and then clean their ball if it's on the fringe.
- When a golf ball is about to be put into play, a golfer can clean the ball. If a golfer is putting a new ball into play after losing their previous ball or hitting it out of bounds, they can clean a ball before putting it into play.
- Before a golfer is about to take relief, a golfer can clean the ball. This includes any situation where you are taking relief: from a hazard, from an unplayable lie, from a plugged lie.
- Before a golfer starts a new hole, a golfer can clean the ball. Once a golfer completes a hole and before they tee off on the next hole, a golfer is able to clean their ball.
A golfer cannot clean their ball in any other situation, including when the ball is in the fairway, when the ball is in the rough, when the ball is in a bunker. Golfers are not allowed to clean a ball to see if it is cut or cracked (and therefore can be removed from play), to identify it or to see if the ball is in a position where relief is allowed.
The penalty for cleaning a lifted ball when not allowed is one stroke.