Sunday, 21 June 2009

Repairing Damage to the Putting Green and Course

Players are often confused as to what damage they can repair to the course. Let’s try and clarify this, starting with the putting green. Rule 16-1c states;
“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.
Any other damage to the putting green must not be repaired if it might assist the player in his subsequent play of the hole.”
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.

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:
• 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…”
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.

As always, wishing you good golfing,

Barry Rhodes
Author of ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’, published by Green Umbrella Publishing Ltd.

rules at barryrhodes dot com
999Q on Twitter

48 comments:

JT said...

what if I intentionally step on my line of putts, will i be accused of trying to improve my line of putt using the pressure of my foot??

thks Barry

Barry Rhodes said...

JT,

Decision 16-1a/2 confirms that if you intentionally walk on your line of putt you incur a penalty of two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play. If a player walks on their line of putt accidentally there is no penalty unless the act improved the line.

Barry

JT said...

thank you x2. I shall change my approach from now on.

Anonymous said...

I recall in 1990 Peter Jacobson won the Bob Hope Desert Classic. In doing this, during the final round on hole #15 or #17 (both are par 3's)he was very adament about pointing out that the pitch mark on the fringe(which was between his ball and his intended line of play)was made by his ball and therefor was allowed to be repaired. Is this a truism or am I mistaken?

Barry Rhodes said...

Rule 13-2 prohibits players from improving their line of play by creating or eliminating any irregularity of surface.

In the Peter Jacobson incident that you recount I wonder if the pitch mark he wanted to repair was partially on the apron and partially on the green? This is covered in Decision 16-1c/1.5;
"Q. If a player's ball lies just off the putting green and there is a ball mark on his line of play, he is entitled to repair the ball mark if it is on the green (Rule 16-1c), but not if it is off the green (Rule 13-2). What is the ruling if a ball mark on the line of play is partially on and partially off the green?
A. Since it is impracticable to allow the repair of only that part of the ball mark which is on the putting green, the player may repair the entire ball mark."

Barry

Anonymous said...

Are you allowed to repair a pitch mark your ball made in the fringe that is in front of your ball position but NOT on your intended line of play (in front - but off to the side)??? I can't seem to get this one answered...

Barry Rhodes said...

Yes, through the green there is nothing in the Rules to prevent a player repairing a pitch mark made by their ball (or any other irregularity in the surface) providing it does not improve their lie, area of intended stance or swing, or line of play.

However, if there could be any doubt whatsoever as to whether the pitch mark could be construed as being on the line of play, I recommend that the player should wait until after they have made their stroke before repairing the damage.

Barry

· 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,

Anonymous said...

Thank you! That is what I thought... I appreciate the clarification.

Anonymous said...

A player creates a massive divot with a practice swing, and the location of the divot happens to be in the stance area. Has he been deemed to improve his stance by creating the divot? If no, has he been deemed to improve his stance by repclacing and depressing the divot before his swing?

Barry Rhodes said...

Your first question is one of those where I would have to witness the circumstances before making a definite ruling. Did the player create the divot on the area of his stance on purpose, for example to eliminate an irregularity in the ground? It seems unlikely, but if he did then he incurs the penalty under Rule 13-2; otherwise no penalty.

Your second question is easier and is covered by Decision 13-2/29;
"Q. There is a bunker between a player's ball and the hole. The player walks through the bunker, for example, to remove a rake on his line of play or determine the distance to the hole. On his way back to the ball, he smooths the footprints he made, restoring his line of play to its original condition. Is such smoothing permissible?

A. No. If a player worsens the 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, he is not entitled to restore that area to its original condition. If he does so, he is in breach of Rule 13-2 and incurs a penalty of loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play."


Barry

Levi said...

If I'm putting from just off the green am I allowed to clean my intended line of any debris eg sand, worm mud, cut grass etc.

Barry Rhodes said...

Levi,

You may remove any loose impediment lying on the apron of the putting green or the putting green itself (this includes worm casts and cut grass). However, the Definition of Loose Impediments states that sand and loose soil are only loose impediments when they are on the putting green. Rule 23-1 and Definition of Loose Impediment.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Can we please have a yes or no to these repairs on a green Barry.
a)Repair to a raised area in the line of a putt created by the cutout hole from yesterdays hole position.
b)Repair to an indentation on the putting surface caused by a careless golfer leaning on his putter.
c)Repair to a divot or mark on the green caused by ill-tempered golfer who accidentally damages the green & does not repair it himself. (caused by swinging at the ball with the putter or wedge)

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

a)Yes
b)No
c)No

Rule 16-1c makes it clear that a player may not repair any damage on a putting green that may assist them in their subsequent play of the hole, other than to an old hole plug or damage caused by the impact of a ball (i.e. pitch-mark).

Barry

Anonymous said...

Thanks Barry, as to point c) Can relief be taken to a damaged area on the green as GUR? Or would a local rule need to be implemented by the committee?

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

There is NO relief for GUR anywhere on the course, unless it has been defined as such by the Committee. This is a common misunderstanding. Players may not take relief without penalty from tyre ruts, cracks in the earth or damage to putting greens caused by ill-tempered golfers, unless the area has previously been defined as GUR.

Barry

Anonymous said...

What is the ruling on a player tapping down spike marks on the green on another player's line? Would the ruling be different if the player doing the tapping down had made those spike marks? JM

Barry Rhodes said...

JM,

Decision 13-2/36 is relevant to your question;

Q. If a fellow-competitor purposely improves the competitor's line of putt by repairing spike damage, the fellow-competitor is penalised under Rule 1-2. If the fellow-competitor's action is sanctioned, tacitly or otherwise, by the competitor, is the competitor also subject to penalty?

A. Yes, under Rule 13-2, for allowing his line of play to be improved.


However, a player is entitled to the lie and line of play that they had when their ball came to rest. So, if the spike mark was made after the player's ball came to rest on the putting green they may repair it, or have it repaired, if it interferes with their line of putt.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Barry. However, just wondering where the right to the lie and line of play that they had when their ball came to rest stems from? JM

Barry Rhodes said...

JM,

I am not a Rules historian but I would expect that a player being entitled to the lie and line of play that they had when their ball came to rest has been an abiding principle for a long time. It would seem to be equitable that a player should not be disadvantaged by something that happened after their ball had come to rest, e.g. sand covering their ball after a fellow competitor had splashed out from a bunker.

Barry

Anonymous said...

OK, thanks again. Sounds like nothing specific in the Rules of Golf (I couldn't find anything). Cheers

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

Try looking at the Decisions relating to Rule 13-2, including 13-2/8 and 13-2/8.5.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Due to the dry weather an old hole which is on my line of putt is not flush to the surface. Can I tap this down with my putter? If I can do I need to seek permission of the other players in the group?

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

Read the first paragraph of this blog again! In that paragraph I quote Rule 16-1c;

“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.”

You do not have to seek permission from your fellow competitors to do so, though it is courteous to confirm to them what you are doing.

Barry

Anonymous said...

You didn't answer the last question! What about if the damage to an old hole is not caused by the impact of a ball it's just on the putting line

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

If you read my answer again you will see thyat I did answer your question,

"Due to the dry weather an old hole which is on my line of putt is not flush to the surface. Can I tap this down with my putter?"
Yes.
"If I can do I need to seek permission of the other players in the group?"
No.

As in the part of the Rule that I quoted, the only damage that may be repaired on a putting green are old hole plugs and damage to the putting green caused by the impact of a ball.

Barry

nhojuonah said...

Hi!

I was playing in a match yesterday and while on the putting green there was an old ball mark between my ball and the hole. The ball mark had been fixed, but it was fixed improperly as it had not been tapped down properly. I proceeded to re-fix the ball mark but my opponent said I couldn't do that because it had already been fixed. I objected but when ahead with my putt without fixing the mark. Who is right? Was I entitled to fix it?

John

Barry Rhodes said...

John,

You were correct. Decision 16-1c/1 is relevant;

Q. A ball mark has been repaired by a player. The ball mark is on the line of putt of a following player. May the following player further repair the ball mark?

A. Yes, provided it is still clearly identifiable as a ball mark.


Barry

Stewart said...

Repairing ball plug marks on the putting green

I have a query about how plug marks may be repaired on the putting green. Clearly they can be, but my question is what do the rules/decisions say about the manner in which they can be repaired. Like many folk, I carry a two pronged tool and work the outside of the plug towards the middle and then tap down with the putter head, just using the weight of the putter head rather than pressing down with additional force. For reasons that I cannot remember, that is my understanding of a 'correct' way to do it. However, I see some players literally pressing down plug mark related bumps with considerable force - is this in breach of any rule?

Stewart

Barry Rhodes said...

Stewart,

No, there is nothing in the Rules or Decisions on how to repair damage made by a ball. So, there is no penalty for tapping down on the pitch mark with force, though this is obviously not the best way to make a repair. There are a number of short YouTube video clips available on how to repair this kind of damage to greens, just search for "Repairing pitch marks" in any search engine.

Barry

Stewart said...

Thanks for that Barry.

I have seen the YOUTUBE material, which is generally targeted at course care rather than meeting or explaining requirements of the golf rules.
That there is no guidance on how to repair ball or old hole damage opens the possibility of potential prima facie clashes with other rules. For example, normally a player intentionally stepping on the line of his putt invokes a 2 stroke penalty, however, stepping on an old raised golf hole may be the most appropriate means of repairing the surface irregularity that the old hole presents. In this case, therefore, standing on the line would be permitted.
Do you agree Barry?

Barry Rhodes said...

Stewart,

As there is nothing in the Rules of Golf stating how damage made by a ball on the putting green must be repaired there cannot be any penalty for repairing it incorrectly!

In my opinion, stepping on an old golf hole on the line of putt does not incur a penalty, whether it is done intentionally (to flatten it) or unintentionally.

Barry

Brian said...

Recently I encountered on my line a dead spot shaped like an old pitch mark. It was quite old, looked like they probably repaired it but now the grass where it was died and so left a mark slightly below the level of the live grass. I was fairly certain this was the case and went ahead and repaired it but was wondering, are these typically considered pitch marks by players in tournaments or ruled as pitch marks by tournament officials? What is considered enough evidence that it was a pitch mark? Merely that it is pitch mark shaped? Or does it have to be new enough that you can see the mix of dirt and grass you typically get when repairing one?

Barry Rhodes said...

Brian,

Any damage made by a ball on a putting green may be repaired and re-repaired, without restriction. If a player is not sure whether something on their line of putt is damage made by a ball they should ask the opinion of those present, e.g. a referee, a fellow competitor, an opponent, etc., and if they receive confirmation that it is, it is highly unlikely that they could subsequently incur a penalty for repairing something that was not permitted. However, if there is any doubt the player should not make any repair before putting over it.

Barry

Brian said...

Thanks, if a playing competitor came to me on this one I would have said it looks like a dead spot caused by a ball pitch mark some time ago. But because of the age of it, I couldn’t say that with 100% certainty, I can only say it’s probably, maybe 85% likely if I had to put a number on it. Right now I only play a few tournaments a year so I don’t know what the common practice is, if it is to give the benefit of the doubt or not. I guess that’s what I’m asking. Do players and officials typically give the benefit of the doubt or does it have to be “virtually certain” like they say about a ball going in a hazard. This was just a casual round so I didn’t have anyone to ask but I try to always get the rules right every time I play because it’s good practice for not screwing up in a tournament. I also want to be able to give the correct opinion if someone comes to me in a tournament with this issue. I’ve come to your blog a few times before getting answers to what rulings would be when I encounter certain situations so I really appreciate it. Had a very hard time finding answers to this one though, I suppose because it is such a judgement call.

Barry Rhodes said...

Brian,

Exactly! If in any doubt don't repair it.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Yesterday my ball was in the fringe. A piece of grass that had popped out from a ball mark was in my line, so I brushed it away. There was disagreement if I broke a rule by removing a loose impediment on the green when my ball lied off the green. I've looked all over the internet and cannot find this rule. I was under the impression that I could not brush away sand or fix a ball mark on the fringe, but didn't realize being off the green would affect what I can do on the green. Can you clarify for me?

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

You are correct. Rule 23-1, Loose Impediments begins;

"Except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard, any loose impediment may be removed without penalty."

Barry

Unknown said...

When is it acceptable to remove debris/loose impediments from my putting line? When the ball has been marked or can I do this once the ball has been replaced and marker picked up?

Barry Rhodes said...

Unknown,

There is no restriction as to when a loose impediment on your line of putt (or anywhere else on the course except from a hazard when your ball lies in that hazard) may be removed. So it may be removed before you mark and lift the ball, while the ball is out of play, or after the ball has been replaced.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Barry

Does a local committee have the ability to create a local rule to allow the tapping down of scuff marks on temporary greens which may be caused by wildlife or humans

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

Such a Local Rule is not consistent with the policy set forth in Appendix I, as required by Rule 33-8. However, you specify "temporary" greens, which intimates that the competition is not a serious one counting for handicap purposes and therefore, in my opinion, in this circumstance a Local Rule could be introduced for these abnormal conditions.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Barry

Potentially the greens would be in play for 3 months and have local members comps played on them that would affect there handicap so that being said is there options for local rules in your opinion

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

In my opinion, this Local Rule would not be permitted by the R&A / USGA, for the reason that I have already stated. However, I recommend that you address the question to your national golfing body, as they will have to make the decision on whether competitions may count for handicapping purposes if this was initiated. I strongly doubt that they will permit this, even for 3 months.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Today on a par-3 my ball plugged on the putting green and remained plugged what am I allowed to do and what is the procedure

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

Mark the ball (a putter length to the side if necessary), lift the ball, repair the damage made by the ball, as permitted under Rule 16-1c, and replace the ball where it was originally at rest, i.e. on the repired area of the pitch mark.

Barry

Ann Cubbage said...


Situation
My pitch mark is between where the ball lies and the hole and it is in the line of putt. Rule 16-1c allows me to repair the ball mark. Question In repairing the ball mark most advice is that you finish the repair by tapping down the mark or even stepping on the repaired mark. This appears to be at odds with 16-1a which does not allow the player to "press anything down" also 13.2 says that the line o play cannot be improved by "pressing a club on the Ground"

So where in the rules does it say that you can press a club down in repairing a ball mark?

Barry Rhodes said...

Ann,

There is no restriction in Rule 16-1c as to how damage made by a ball is repaired. There is a relevant example in Decision 16-1a/16, which confirms that a player may step on a ball mark in the act of repairing it.

Barry