Rulebook – Leaving Your Mark

Marking your golf ball is not as simple as you may think
Marking your golf ball is not as simple as you may think
Marking your golf ball is not as simple as you may think

Countless times during a round, you mark, lift and replace your ball on the putting green. So frequently it occurs, the procedure is taken for granted. And, like everything else in life, casualness leads to carelessness, which, when playing golf, leads to penalties. So, it’s worthwhile reviewing the do’s and don’ts of lifting your ball on the putting green.

First things first. When may you lift your ball on the putting green? The Rules permit you to mark, lift and clean your ball on the green at anytime, with one exception. That being: you are not permitted to lift your ball when there’s another ball in motion and that ball might strike your ball.

Marking the Ball’s Position

Believe it or not, the requirement to mark your ball before lifting it from the putting green is relatively new. In fact, it was introduced into the Rules in 1976. Prior to that, marking your ball was only a recommendation… “should be marked”.  Now, lifting your ball from the green, without marking its position first, will result in a penalty of one stroke – Rule 16-1b. There’s no limit to the number of times you may mark and lift your ball on the green.

The sole intent of marking the ball’s position is to ensure that it gets replaced back in the exact same spot. The Rules recommend you use a ball-marker, small coin or other small object to mark the ball’s position. Mind you, these are only recommendations. In actuality, you may use just about anything – a tee, casino chip, pebble, twig, etc. Even though strongly discouraged, you may scratch a line in the green to mark the position of your ball. And, yes, the Rules permit you to mark the position of the ball with the toe of a club.

When marking your ball, there’s no requirement to place the ball-marker behind the ball. You may place the marker beside or even in front of your ball. However, placing it in front of your ball is not recommended. If your ball-marker interferes with the play of another player, it’s advised that you place the ball-marker one or two clubhead-lengths to the side. It is permissible  to combine the steps of marking the ball and placing the ball-marker one clubhead-length to the side, by placing the toe of the club  beside the ball and placing the ball-marker at the heel.  Again, the intent is to get the ball back to it’s original position.   

Now the Tricky Part

If your ball is accidentally moved while being marked or the ball-marker is moved in the process of lifting or replacing the ball, there is no penalty provided the movement of the ball or ball-marker was directly attributable to the specific act of marking the position of the ball or replacing it.

On the other hand, if the ball or ball-marker is moved through carelessness, such as, accidentally dropping the ball-marker on the ball (from any distance) you incur a penalty of one stroke. What if you tap down your ball-marker with the ball and the marker moves? No penalty, as it is deemed to be part of the marking process. Similarly, if the ball-marker sticks to the bottom of you putter. 


Frequently, players will either mark their ball with a ball-marker and not lift their ball or replace their ball and not lift the ball-marker. They do so, with the mistaken belief that when their ball is marked, it isn’t in play. Nothing could be further from the truth. A ball remains in play until it’s lifted and it’s back in play as soon as it’s replaced, whether or not the the ball-marker has been removed.     

Therefore, if your ball is on a slippery slope and it may roll away from the hole, don’t replace it until immediately before you putt. Conversely, if the slope runs towards the hole, get the ball back into play asap, as it may roll closer to the hole. Or, better yet, roll into the hole!

For more information on Rule 16-1b or any other Rule, or to purchase a copy of the “Rules of Golf” or “Decisions on the Rules of Golf”, please visit Golf Canada at www.golfcanada.ca.

/ Dean Ryan, PGA Tour Champions Rules Official 

%d bloggers like this: