Marking a Ball on the Putting Green

I am often asked this question…

Is marking the position of a ball on a putting green with the toe of a putter head permitted by the Rules?

Personally, I wish that it wasn’t, as in my opinion it is an unsatisfactory, lazy practice that should be discouraged, especially in competitive golf, but this part of Decision 20-1/16, clarifies that it does not incur a penalty.

Q. The Note to Rule 20-1 provides that “the position of a ball to be lifted should be marked by placing a ball-marker, a small coin or other similar object immediately behind the ball.” Is a player penalized if he uses an object that is not similar to a ball-marker or small coin to mark the position of his ball?

A. No. The provision in the Note to Rule 20-1 is a recommendation of best practice, but there is no penalty for failing to act in accordance with the Note.

Examples of methods of marking the position of a ball that are not recommended, but are permissible, are as follows:

* placing the toe of a club at the side of, or behind, the ball

* using a tee

* using a loose impediment

* scratching a line, provided the putting green is not tested (Rule 16-1d) and a line of putt is not indicated (Rule 8-2b). As this practice may cause damage to the putting green, it is discouraged.

However, under Rule 20-1 it is necessary to physically mark the position of the ball. Reference to an existing mark on the ground does not constitute marking the position of a ball. For example, it is not permissible to mark the position with reference to a blemish on the putting green.

Prior to the recommended Local Rule relating to the accidental movement of a ball, or ball-marker, on the putting green being adopted by Committees at the beginning of 2017 (see this blog), there was always a chance that the player could be penalised if they then lifted their club from the putting surface, e.g. while cleaning their ball, but that does not now apply, providing the action was accidental.

17 Responses to Marking a Ball on the Putting Green

  1. Chris D May 12, 2018 at 2:49 pm #

    Not a big deal to mark with the toe of the putter,speeds up play!
    And how many times when someone moves their ball that’s on someone else’s line does it go back
    to the exact same spot?
    BIGGER things to worry about than a fraction of an inch! IMO

  2. John King May 12, 2018 at 3:44 pm #

    Way to Lazy. How hard is it to put down a coin to mark it beside if you mark it with the toe of the putter aren’t you standing in the way of another golfer or causing a distraction while standing by the ball.. MARK it with a COIN….
    John King

  3. stephen Sasz May 12, 2018 at 4:09 pm #


    I am copping out on the immediate question, but I have an issue or concern which I believe to be at least if not more important for the good of this marvelous game.

    Here goes. Trying to ask the USGA and the local Western Florida Golf Association were a realization of suspicion on my part of the self-aggrandizement of both associations.

    ISSUE: Golf green vitality and well-being : The replacement of cup plugs on greens. I cannot believe the degree of ignorance that is exhibited.

    Cup PLUGS after replacement should be flush to the green surface. Please think about how often the replaced plug is either below or above that surface. Perhaps your subscribers should be so alerted and observe the same nonsense.

    So very sad. In the Tampa Bay area, I have continued to witness the accrual of cup plugs that, in effect, remind me of a version of mumps or measles.
    I will stop now. If you care, please contact me. By the way, the USGA is a totally useless organization. All it seems to care about is membership and the concomitant dues revenue. Check it out. Have reserved my judgment on the local Western Florida GA, but not for much longer. Sorry folks, but the same omen looms overhead.

    • ken May 15, 2018 at 8:02 pm #

      Until the USGA gets its head out of the clouds of elitism and snobbery) Outrageous ticket prices, uber expensive refreshments at the US Open and sacks Mike Davis, wrecker of golf courses( See Pinehurst #2 and Chambers Bay) I am not sending another dime to the USGA.
      I cannot wait to see what Davis has in store for Shinnecock Hills. I wonder if he will issue another DO NOT IRRIGATE THE GREENS edict.

  4. stephen Sasz May 12, 2018 at 4:12 pm #

    I get it. Another revenue garnering vulturous entity which really only cares about the almighty “buck.”

  5. Chester McMillin May 12, 2018 at 5:01 pm #

    Marking the ball should not involve damaging the green in any way

  6. Lee May 12, 2018 at 7:22 pm #

    The worst rule of golf is eliminating the belly putter. As one gets older, putting is the first to go I love golf, but was about to give it up since I had a flurry of 3 putt hole. Then I got a belly putter and I lowered my score by4 to 6 shots. A normal round par is 72.36 of the shot is by a putter (2 per hole mostly) Half of a round is putts. If we could improve half the game it would bring out more people to play. The rules change the driver several times. They allowed changes to shoes grips, and irons. Why not the putter. Big mistake not to allow it… .

    • Richard Branson May 13, 2018 at 6:38 am #

      The “belly” or long putter has NOT been eliminated. The putter itself remains well within the rules. The only change is that one can not anchor it on your chest or stomach. Adam Scott is using his old Scotty Cameron Kombi long putter this week at the Players Championship.

  7. Ray May 12, 2018 at 9:08 pm #

    I believe in using a $20 gold piece. It leaves NO doubt as to who you’re playing with! 🙂

  8. Jeff May 13, 2018 at 4:01 am #

    If this is one of your biggest concerns about the rules, you must have a charmed life. What on earth is so egregious about marking the ball with the toe of your putter to give it a quick wipe? I do it all the time and agree that it speeds up play. We have become so accustomed to seeing the PGA Tour guys meticulously scoot their coin or other marker up to a micrometer behind the ball, have their caddy give it thorough cleansing like it’s going out on a date, and then lovingly place the ball back down with the alignment marker EXACTLY on their line…oh, and then change it three times to make sure it’s just right! While I can somewhat understand this when you are playing for high stakes and your career, but that’s not us. Just step up and putt the ball! For this same reason, I applaud the new rule that doesn’t require removing the flagstick for putts. I stopped doing this a long time ago to speed up play as well.

  9. John Herman May 13, 2018 at 4:33 am #

    JPH – let me remind you that, leaving out destination golf, such as we see in southern Florida during the winter in the USA, golf is on the decline. I will not go on and on about the reasons for that, they should be self-evident. Certainly, anything that slows the pace of golf adds to that issue. I live near Cape Cod in the summer, with perhaps 40 golf courses within a 20 mile radius of our home, and perhaps half of them are not in great financial shape. The days of building a golf course without a housing development to help support it are over (for the most part), We need to do what we can to get younger golfers interested, and we need to keep older golfers in the game for as long as we can. I have helped many of the less physically able golfers with whom I have played with in Florida by marking their balls on the green, raking the traps, helping them into and out of the traps, picking their ball out of the hole, etc. Recreational golfers, who are by far the majority of those playing, do need help with the rules being bent at times. I have played with men who spend too much time looking for balls, lining up putts, etc. If you are able to think, just remember that golf is on the decline, and the rules that govern competitive play, and certainly professional play, should be strict, but be a bit more gentle on others, particularly the elderly. We all have concerns for damaged greens, but others in the foursome have to be lenient and helpful to those who cannot bend down easily to mark and/or pick up a ball.

  10. The Guffer May 13, 2018 at 6:20 am #

    The rule that is most upsetting is the divot rule. I hit a drive 225 straight down the fairway and end up being penalized because I am in a divot. The divot is a man and/or woman made obstruction. Why can’t I get relief…seems pretty straight forward.

    • Bill Spezia June 30, 2018 at 4:39 am #

      I totally agree. However, the player that made the divot should attempt to repair it.

  11. Walt G May 13, 2018 at 7:33 am #

    Is this a rule to speed play? Or is it another rule to justify the governing bodies? My vote is for more relaxed rules for amateurs like me and another for pros. It would speed play. I am tired of some of us studying a putt for 5 minutes or waiting til we drive to our ball before even beginning to decide what club to hit. How many of us know the real distance we hit each of our clubs? I have hit a 200 yard green with a 5 wood and been short on the same hole with a 3 wood ! I’d like to see 4 hour rounds again!!

  12. Jim Halverson May 14, 2018 at 7:49 am #

    This to me is like removing the golf ball from the hole with the head of your putter. If it is too difficult to do yourself, then ask somebody else to do it for you.Laziness should never be accepted in the game of golf.

  13. jack May 14, 2018 at 11:31 am #

    Can amateurs still anchor a long putter?

  14. Ed New May 15, 2018 at 8:07 am #

    I’m ashamed of myself for wasting this much time reading the article and all the responses. Who cares what you use to mark the ball, as long as it ends back in the place where it came to rest? By the way, to the guy complaining about elimination of the belly putter, I have to admire anyone that can make one of those God-awful things work. I tried one that belonged to a friend once and was lucky to even make contact with the ball. I was fully convinced that the inventor hated golf and his sole intent was to torture people who had the audacity to play the game.

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