Rules Guy: Can you tamp down the area around a lifted cup on the green?

ball near hole on green

Are you allowed the fix the green around the hole if you notice an irregularity?

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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.

Due to COVID-19, the pin must remain in position at our course. Fine, but my group often tees off mid-morning, meaning 50 or so players have played ahead of us. It’s clearly noticeable that balls rolling in a straight line to the hole suddenly turn within the last inch, a phenomenon that appears at almost every hole. We suspect that the lip is being slowly prised up due to the removal of balls with the pin in position. Can we tamp down the immediate area around the hole before putting to counteract this?
—Sandy McGookin, via email

Rules Guy is prepared to drop many things, including a steaming bag of you-know-what, at Covid’s door … but not this.

The issue of player’s footprints around the hole, and their impact on a putt’s roll, has been around since before Dave Pelz was a twinkle in his parents’ eye. Fortunately, the Rules allow you to repair damage on the green caused by a person (player or otherwise) or an outside influence (like, say, an elk).

Golfer with tee
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By: Rules Guy

Under Rule 13.1(c)2, damage on the putting green, whether spike marks or elk hoofprints, can be repaired. This can be thought of as an exception to the general restrictions in Rule 8.1a against improving the line of play or one of the other conditions affecting the stroke.

But there are some things, like corked wine, that cannot be repaired. These include natural wear of and around the hole as well as uneven grass growth. When in doubt about fixable damage versus unfixable natural wear, discuss the situation with the course’s or competition’s powers that be. 

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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