Rules of Golf 14.1c Marking, Lifting and Cleaning a Ball – So this means a player can DELIBERATELY clean their ball for a one-shot penalty?

I received a comment on Marking, Lifting and Cleaning your ball, which relates to the wording of Rule 14.1c:

‘If the player cleans a lifted ball when not allowed, he or she gets one penalty stroke.

The comment was:

‘So, this means a player can DELIBERATELY clean their ball for a one-shot penalty?

I am thinking of recent tournaments where many mud balls veered off-line. (With a 2 /3 shot lead and playing your second shot from 200yards on the last hole over water, it would be sensible to deliberately clean your ball !!!!)’.

Well, this is not quite true!

You may be forgiven for thinking it, but I would go no further than that unless you want to be tarred with the same brush as Phil Mickelson or Patrick Reed and have members think twice before playing with you or have your Club banning you from competitions.


In the first place you must have a good reason for lifting your ball and you can only lift a ball under a Rule of Golf.

So, if you have no legitimate reason to lift your ball you will incur a 1-stroke penalty for that on top of your 1-stroke penalty for cleaning the ball.

But, if you felt you had a good reason to lift your ball, you are still deliberately breaching a Rule of Golf for your own advantage and gaining an advantage over your fellow competitors.

Which brings me on to the real reasons why you should not even contemplate cleaning your ball when it is not allowed.

  1. The central principles of the game of golf for a player are:
    • Play the course as you find it and play the ball as it lies.
    • Play by the Rules and in the spirit of the game.
  2. You are responsible for applying your own penalties if you breach a Rule, so that you cannot gain any potential advantage over your opponent in match play or other players in stroke play.
  3. All players are expected to play in the spirit of the game by following certain advice and this includes:
  4. Acting with integrity – for example, by following the Rules, applying all penalties, and being honest in all aspects of play.

Something that we all sign-up to when we book a tee-time or enter a competition

Note: There are exceptions where the Rules allow the player to alter conditions on the course and require or allow the player to play the ball from a different place than where it lies, and these are set out quite clearly in the Rules of Golf.

There is no penalty under the Rules for failing to act against the spirit of the game in this way, except that the Committee may disqualify a player for acting contrary to the spirit of the game if it finds that the player has committed serious misconduct.

The meaning of Serious Misconduct is dealt with under Interpretation 1.2a/1:

The phrase “serious misconduct” in Rule 1.2a is intended to cover player misconduct that is so far removed from the expected norm in golf that the most severe sanction of removing a player from the competition is justified. This includes dishonesty, deliberately interfering with another player’s rights, or endangering the safety of others.

The Committee must determine if the misconduct is serious considering all the circumstances. Even if the Committee determines that the misconduct is serious, it may take the view that it is more appropriate to warn the player that a repeat of the misconduct or similar misconduct will result in disqualification, instead of disqualifying him or her in the first instance.

There are several examples of actions by a player that are likely to be considered serious misconduct included amongst them is:

  • Deliberately not playing in accordance with the Rules and potentially gaining a significant advantage by doing so, despite incurring a penalty for a breach of the relevant Rule.

Penalties other than disqualification may be imposed for player misconduct only if those penalties are adopted as part of a Code of Conduct under Rule 1.2b

An action that may be considered as a compromise when dealing with a ‘Mud Ball’, is that, when replacing your ball, there is no requirement to place it back in the same orientation.

It must be placed back in the same position horizontally and vertically, but it can be rotated so that your club will not strike the mud on the ball.

What you are not allowed to do is place the ball with the mud downwards, (acting as a tee-peg) this would raise the position of the ball vertically from its original position, the ball not being placed in its original position.

But this action still depends upon your lifting of the ball being legitimate under a Rule of Golf in the first place.

Enjoy your golf but play fair with your fellow golfers.

6 Replies to “Rules of Golf 14.1c Marking, Lifting and Cleaning a Ball – So this means a player can DELIBERATELY clean their ball for a one-shot penalty?”

  1. Declaring your ball unplayable would certainly cover any “mud ball” scenario.
    I stress, that I play strictly by the rules .
    As placing on closely mown areas was introduced for “mud balls” (not bad lies !), those administering competitions should apply local rules to suit conditions on the day and not be persuaded to do otherwise.

    1. It is a fundamental responsibility of all players to Play by the Rules of Golf and in the Spirit of the game and in my experience most Committees do post Local Rules as they see fit when abnormal playing conditions may exist on a day of play.

      Rule 19 is a Rule of Golf and under Rule 19.1 a player is the sole arbiter as to when or whether her/his ball is unplayable, for whatever reason, so long as it is not in a Penalty Area.

      19.1 Player May Decide to Take Unplayable Ball Relief Anywhere Except Penalty Area

      A player is the only person who may decide to treat his or her ball as unplayable by taking penalty relief under Rule 19.2 or 19.3.

      • Unplayable ball relief is allowed anywhere on the course, except in a penalty area.
      • If a ball is unplayable in a penalty area, the player’s only relief option is to take penalty relief under Rule 17.

      With respect to the Local Rule on Preferred Lies.

      Preferred lies were never brought in to deal with the problem of ‘mud balls’, this is a myth propagated by players because the Local Rule is more commonly experienced during wet conditions when a player’s ball is quite likely to gather mud on it. in England, they were brought in to deal with abnormal conditions that could interfere with fair play or to protect the fairways.

      E-3 Preferred Lies

      Purpose. When occasional local abnormal conditions might interfere with fair play, the affected parts of the course can be defined as ground under repair. But adverse conditions such as heavy snows, spring thaws, prolonged rains or extreme heat can sometimes damage the course or prevent use of heavy mowing equipment.

      When such conditions are widespread on the course, the Committee can choose to adopt a Local Rule for “preferred lies” (also known as “winter rules”) to allow fair play or help protect the fairway. Such a Local Rule should be withdrawn as soon as conditions allow.

      Although often referred to as ‘Winter Rules’, which can be adopted in England between 1st October and 30th April, Preferred Lies are not necessarily confined to a Winter Season and may be brought in outside this period sometimes during a Summer Season if extreme weather conditions are experienced.
      So, whatever you may think of a player who declares a ‘mud ball’ as being unplayable, s/he is quite at liberty to do this and is legally playing within the Rules of Golf.


  2. Thank you for your reply which I entirely agree with.
    I am of the old school, (pre 2019 rule changes). It is so easy now to lift your ball with no consequences. ie Identifying your ball with no requirement to inform your fellow competitor. Moving your ball whilst “searching” for it !!!! etc.etc.
    And NOW you can lift your ball and throw it to one side if you think it’s embedded. Had the ruling gone against the player, would he have been penalized for cleaning his ball as it skidded through the grass????

    1. Yes, if the ball had anything adhering to it, e.g. grass, mud, dead insect etc.
      This is covered in Rules of Golf, Interpretation 14.1c/1, see below

      14.1c/1 Player Must Be Careful When Lifted Ball May Not Be Cleaned

      When a player is applying any of the four Rules mentioned in Rule 14.1c where cleaning is not allowed, there are acts that the player should avoid because, despite there being no intention to clean the ball, the act itself may result in the ball being cleaned.

      For example, if a player lifts his or her ball that has grass or other debris sticking to it and throws it to his or her caddie who catches it with a towel, it is likely that some of the grass or other debris will be removed, meaning the ball has been cleaned. Similarly, if the player places that ball in his or her pocket or drops it onto the ground, these acts could result in some of the grass or other debris being removed from that ball, meaning that it has been cleaned.

      However, if the player takes these actions after lifting a ball that was known to be clean before it was lifted, the player does not get a penalty because the ball was not cleaned.

  3. How about DELIBERATELY declaring the Ball Unplayable under Rule 19 ( where I am the sole judge as to whether or not I will so declare) ? Still 1 stroke penalty although I have to drop the Ball instead of placing it.

    1. Yes, I do not have a problem with applying ‘Unplayable Lie’ Rule.
      You are the sole arbiter as to whether your ball is unplayable or not.
      Remember however, you cannot declare your ball unplayable in a penalty area and there are different relief options for when your ball is unplayable in a Bunker, which may give you one-stroke or two-stroke penalties.

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