Rules Guy: Is it permissible to tamp down the grass around the hole before you putt?

Rory McIlroy tamp grass

What do the rules say about tamping down the grass around the hole?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

This morning, a gentleman in our foursome made a habit of tamping down rather forcefully around the hole with his putter (always in his line of putt, naturally). When I question this “gardening,” he claimed the greenskeepers weren’t doing their job properly when they changed holes. I happen to know better, since I am one of those greenskeepers. What rule should I quote
— Bob Keifling, Seibring, Fla.

Clearly, you are the gentleman since you chose to take the high route rather than tamp forcefully around this clod’s noggin!

Next time, let the rules do that for you. Players may repair “damage” to the putting green, which includes the hole and the area around it, even if doing so improves the line of play. But (!) normal maintenance practices, natural wear and natural surface imperfections are not damage as defined by Rule 13.1c(2) and may not be repaired.

If his tamping alters the ground and improves a condition affecting the stroke, such as line of play, then Rule 8.1a applies, and he gets the general penalty of two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play. Now who’s not doing his job properly?

For more green-maintenance guidance from our guru, read on …

debris on green
Rules Guy: Can I use debris on the green as a backstop when I’m putting?
By: Rules Guy

So I was recently playing with a buddy of mine at a heavily treed course in West Virginia. When we got to the first green, he pulled a very small electric leaf blower from his cart and proceeded to carefully clear leaves, grains of sand, dead insects and anything else along his putting line. The rest of us obviously questioned this practice; he was adamant that it was within the rules. But if it was an allowable practice, Tour players would surely do it, wouldn’t they?
— Joseph D. Shuffleton, Sterling, Va.

Tour pros and caddies, look away! Okay, loyal readers, now that it’s just us, Rules Guy informs you that, under Rule 15.1a, loose impediments may be removed by any means. Which is to say, a leaf blower is a permissible way to remove loose impediments.

And just so you all know, I recently returned from the Patent and Trademark Office, where I secured exclusive rights to the “Line of Putt Loose Impediment Leaf Sweeper®.” Thoughts?

Need help unriddling the greens at your home course? Pick up a custom Green Book from 8AM Golf affiliate Golf Logix.

Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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