Rules Corner: What is and isn’t legal on the putting green?

March 15, 2020

There are a number of new rules in the updated Rules of Golf, from how to take a proper drop to how to proceed when you hit your drive out of bounds, but some of the most notable changes have occurred on the putting green.

The biggest change on the green is it being legal to putt with the flagstick in. Prior to the change, holing the ball while the flagstick was still in resulted in a penalty. The rule is outlined in Rule 13.2a.

“If you make a stroke with the flagstick left in the hole and the ball in motion then hits the flagstick, there is no penalty and the ball must be played as it lies. The decision to have the flagstick in the hole must be made before your stroke, by either leaving the flagstick in the hole or having a removed flagstick put back. In either case, you must not try to gain an advantage by deliberately moving the flagstick to a position other than centered in the hole. If you do so and the ball in motion then hits the flagstick, you get the general penalty.”

The reason for the updated rules was to help speed up pace of play.

Another big change has to do with fixing damage on the putting green. In the past it was only legal to fix ball marks and old hole plugs. It is now legal to fix almost any damage to the putting surface, including ball marks, spike marks and damage made by a club or a flagstick. This is outline under Rule 13.1c.

And under Rule 13.1d, accidentally moving your ball on the outing green is no longer a penalty. You just estimate where the ball’s prior position, replace the ball and continue play.

Looking for more information on the Rules of Golf? Visit usga.org/rules, or, if you have a question of your own, you can submit it to Rules Guy, our resident expert, at rulesguy@golf.com. The answer may be featured in an upcoming issue of GOLF Magazine.

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