What Does 'Dew Sweeper' Mean in Golf?

Golfers walking up a fairway with morning dew still on the ground
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"Dew sweeper" is a golf slang term that means a golfer or golfers who play a golf course very early in the morning — the first or among the first to tee off — while the dew is still on the ground. By playing first, such golfers sweep the dew off the teeing grounds, fairways and putting greens.

Such early risers are also referred to as "the dawn patrol".

In Pro Golf, 'Dew Sweeper' is a Mild Insult

The term "dew sweeper" is a mild insult when used in reference to professional tour golfers. Why? Because pro golf tournaments, in the third and fourth rounds, arrange their tee times in reverse order of standing. Golfers at the top of the scoreboard play last, golfers at the bottom of the scoreboard tee off first.

Therefore, a pro golfer who is a dew sweeper in Round 3 or 4 is one who is teeing off early in the morning because he or she is very low on the leaderboard. 

However, used outside of that context there is no pejorative connotation to the term and any recreational golfer — good, bad or otherwise — who grabs one of the first tee times of the day is a dew sweeper.

Dew and the Rules of Golf

There are many recreational golfers out there who love being dew sweepers. Nobody in front of your group means nobody with the potential to slow you down. It also means you are playing the greens at their most pristine.

However, if there is dew on the ground it also means wet shoes, perhaps wet pant cuffs, wet club faces, wet golf balls. It also means putting through dew on the greens, and if the dew is heavy that can really slow down a golf ball.

Is heavy dew considered casual water? Or do the Rules of Golf say anything at all about dew on the course?

The official rules do mention dew in several places to let golfers know what it is not: 

OK, but what about removing the dew? Say you're on the green ready to putt: Are you allowed to sweep away or, for example, use a towel to soak up the dew in your line of putt?

Nice try, but the answer is no — with one exception. The USGA specifically addresses this question in one of its Rules FAQs relating to Rule 13-2:

Q. I like to play early in the morning. Usually there is still dew on the ground during the first few holes. Is it permissible to sweep away the dew or mop it up with a towel around my ball?
A. Generally, improving the lie of the ball, the line of play, or the area of intended stance or swing by removing dew is a breach of Rule 13-2 (the penalty for which is loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play). However, dew, frost or water may be removed from the teeing ground. 

So with the exception of the teeing ground, if you play the golf course while there is still dew on the ground you'll just have to play through it. You chose to tee off so early, so you're going to have to deal with it.