“The player may repair an old hole plug or damage to the putting green caused by the impact of a ball, whether or not the player's ball lies on the putting green.”This is the only damage that a player may repair on the putting green without incurring a penalty and note that the player’s ball does not have to be on the green for the player to repair the damage. The same Rule goes on to say;
“If a ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved in the process of the repair, the ball or ball-marker must be replaced. There is no penalty, provided the movement of the ball or ball-marker is directly attributable to the specific act of repairing an old hole plug or damage to the putting green caused by the impact of a ball. Otherwise, Rule 18 applies.The last sentence is very important. It implies that providing the damage is nowhere near your line of putt you may repair it, no matter how it was caused. However, remember that when making a stroke most players stray from their intended line of putt from time to time and the ball often passes quickly by the hole leaving a second or even third putt from a different angle. Best not to take chances and not repair any other type of damage, which includes spike marks, heel prints, animal scrapes, flagstick dents at the lip of the hole, or score marks caused by dragging a flagstick over the surface of the green. Many players have made the mistake of tapping down a spike mark in the vicinity of the hole, whether purposely or absent-mindedly. Decision 16-1c/4 confirms that this is not permitted as it might assist the player in his subsequent play of the hole.
Any other damage to the putting green must not be repaired if it might assist the player in his subsequent play of the hole.”
So, damage made by the impact of a ball (pitch marks) and old hole plugs should be repaired as soon as the players arrive at the putting green, whereas all other damage should be repaired by players as they leave the green after finishing their play of the hole. There is nothing in the Rules requiring players to repair this other damage to the putting surfaces before they leave the green but it is good etiquette and a courtesy to other players to do so.
What about repairing course damage off the putting green? Really, the only thing that you have to be careful about is Rule 13-2, which states;
“A player must not improve or allow to be improved:A good example of how you may fall foul of this Rule is if you replace a divot that lies in front of your ball. This may seem unreasonable if you are playing into the putting green with a pitching wedge, which means that your ball will immediately rise several metres above the ground before passing over where the divot has been replaced, but this is the Rule and you are liable to be penalised if you do so.
• the position or lie of his ball,
• the area of his intended stance or swing,
• his line of play or a reasonable extension of that line beyond the hole, or
• the area in which he is to drop or place a ball…”
As always, wishing you good golfing,
Author of ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’, published by Green Umbrella Publishing Ltd.
rules at barryrhodes dot com
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