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.