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.