Rule of the Month: The Exception to the Rule | Oregon Golf Association

Rule of the Month: The Exception to the Rule

By OGA Senior Rules Officials: Pete Scholz and Terry McEvilly

Rule 13-2 Exceptions

Last month we tackled one of the most difficult Rules for a player or official to apply on the course.  Rule 13-2, which prohibits improving the lie, area of intended stance or swing, line of play or the area in which a ball may be dropped, is very complex and is subject to interpretations.  While one player or official may perceive that an action has created a potential advantage, another may not.  Adding to the complexity of the Rule is a long list of exceptions.  The exceptions may allow a player to improve an area protected by the Rule under a certain set of circumstances.  This month we present ten questions that deal with those exceptions and how to interpret the Rule to minimize the confusion.

Questions:  True/False

  1. A player takes his backswing for a stroke and in the process breaks branch.  He completes his swing hitting the ball onto the putting green.  By breaking the branch he has incurred a penalty for improving the area of his swing.
  2. A player, whose ball lies under a bush, intends to hit towards the putting green.  He takes a practice swing near his ball and breaks a large branch improving his area of intended swing.  He decides not to play toward the putting green and his new direction of play has not been improved by the breaking of the branch.  There is no penalty as the final line of play chosen has not been improved. 
  3. Dew may be removed with a towel from around a player’s ball on the teeing ground.
  4. The line of play may be improved by repairing damage to the putting green caused by the impact of a golf ball but only when the player’s ball lies on the putting green.
  5. A player may improve his lie by eliminating irregularities of surface within the teeing ground whether or not his ball is in play.
  6. An out of bounds stake must not be moved by the player’s body when he takes his stance if doing so results in the area of intended stance being improved.
  7. In a sandy area through the green (i.e., not in a water hazard or bunker), a player’s ball has come to rest in a footprint.  He grounds his club lightly behind the ball which results in the sand being slightly compressed.  The lie of his ball has been improved and a penalty incurred.
  8. A player’s ball lies on the fringe of a putting green with sand deposited from bunker shots between his ball and the hole.  He may remove the sand that lies on the putting green but not on the fringe.
  9.  A player backs into a tree when taking his stance improving the area of his intended swing.  There is no penalty provided he took his stance in the least intrusive manner and no branches were purposely moved to avoid interference.
  10. Divots in a dropping zone may be repaired prior to dropping a ball.


  1. False.  Since the stroke was completed, the player incurs no penalty for improving the area of his swing.  However, if the player had discontinued the swing, he would incur a penalty if the improvement of the area has created a potential advantage.  See Decision 13-2/14.5
  2. False.  Once the player has improved the area of his original intended swing, he was in breach of Rule 13-2.  Playing in a different direction or declaring the ball unplayable and playing from a different location does not absolve the player of the penalty.  See Decision 13-2/24
  3. True.  The teeing ground of the hole being played is a very special spot on the course.  An exception in Rule 13-2 allows a player to remove dew, frost and even standing water whether his ball is in play or not.
  4. False.  Rule 13-2 includes an exception to allow damage to the putting green to be repaired.  The exception references Rule 16-1 that allows damage caused by the impact of a ball to be repaired, whether or not the player’s ball lies on the putting green.  Additionally, an old hole plug may also be repaired but other damage must not be repaired if it might assist the player in his subsequent play of the hole.
  5. True.  At any time, whether a ball is in play or not, a player may create or eliminate irregularities within the teeing ground.  Therefore, under an exception to Rule 13-2, it is permissible to improve the areas protected by the same Rule when performed within the teeing ground.
  6. False.  While it is not permissible to purposely move an out of bounds stake, a player incurs no penalty if the stake is moved as a result of fairly taking his stance.  The player must take his stance in the least intrusive manner and if this results in the out of bounds stake moving or bending there is no penalty.  See Decision 13-2/1.
  7. False.  Provided the club is only grounded lightly and not pressed into the sand, there is no penalty for improving the lie.  It is important to note that this player’s ball is not in a water hazard or bunker.  Grounding the club in a water hazard or bunker would breach another part of Rule 13 which prohibits touching the ground in a hazard with a club or hand.  
  8. True.  An exception to Rule 13-2 permits a player to remove sand or loose soil from the putting green but not anywhere else on the course except the teeing ground.  Therefore, the sand on the fringe must not be removed. 
  9. True.  The key phrase in this question is that the player must take his stance in the least intrusive manner.  For examples of fairly taking a stance using the least intrusive manner see Decision 13-2/1.  A player must use caution when taking his stance being careful not to move interfering branches beyond what is reasonably necessary to take his stance.
  10. False.  Improving a dropping zone is prohibited by Rule 13-2 and there is no exception that would allow a player to repair a divot prior to dropping a ball.  This illustrates the importance of replacing your divots as a courtesy to other players later in the round who might use the same dropping zone. 

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