6 tips on when to mark your golf ball

Do you really need to mark your ball on the putting green? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Here’s advice on when to mark and why.

Feature image for when to mark

It happens almost every Sunday — I am ready to chip onto the green but it is Jane’s turn first. I wait as she takes her shot, and then I stand over my ball right away to play mine and keep play moving. But as I take one quick look at the hole, I realize Jane is walking across my field of vision to mark her ball. So I stop and wait for Jane to finish what she is doing and stand still.

And, there’s another wasted minute on the golf course. Jane’s golf ball was not on my golf ball’s path to the hole. I hadn’t asked her to mark it. If my ball went terribly off course and knocked hers away, Jane has to put hers back where it was. But even many experienced golfers believe that once their ball is on the putting green, they are supposed to pull that pretty marker off their cap and lift their ball before anyone else plays.

Not only is that untrue, that pattern of play could get you penalized in some quarters for undue delay (Rule 6-7). Se here are six pointers that summarize key putting green rules (generally, under Rule 20) and etiquette.


  1. If my ball that is being played from off the putting surface hits Jane’s ball that is already on the green, Jane’s ball has to be returned to its original position — even if mine knocked hers into the hole. This is true from off the green even if I am using my putter. It is only when both of our balls are on the putting surface that I would be penalized two strokes for hitting Jane’s.
  2. I could go ahead and chip while Jane is walking across the green to her ball, unless she has announced that she is marking it. Not many of us will make a good stroke this way, of course. (If Jane announced that she is marking and I rush to chip before she gets to the ball, I get disqualified, Rule 3-4!)
  3. You may mark your ball if it, as it lies, might help another player. This requires A. a bit of golf knowledge and B. a competitive spirit. In the first case, for example, know that if your ball is behind the hole, it could stop a chip that runs long, and thus help another player. Now, if you’re playing a social round, what’s the harm in this? Or, if it’s your partner in a four-ball? (Be smart and quiet and just leave it right there unless the opponents ask you to mark; if your partner asks you to leave it there and you agree, you are both disqualified.) However, if it’s the individual stroke-play club championship and you want to win, by all means announce to your companions that you are going to mark your ball.
  4. You may not mark/lift your ball if its position could influence another ball that is already in motion. (Rule 16b: two-stroke penalty) So pay attention to what is happening around you.
  5. You may ask to have another ball marked if it, as it lies, might help another player. This rule would come into play in a club championship for instance, where there might be four players in stroke play competition. If Mary’s ball is in a position to help Jane as she chips, I may ask Mary to mark her ball. When would I do this? When I am trying to catch or hold off Jane, of course.
  6. You must mark your ball if another player asks you to do so. For instance, you don’t think your ball is interfering with Mary’s shot, but Mary does. Mark or be disqualified.

That last point brings us to what is generally the best pace-of-play policy to follow for when to mark on the green: Mark your golf ball when your ball is clearly on a player’s line between her chip and the hole, or whenever you are asked to. Otherwise, let everyone come onto the green and mark together, not one at a time.

My Sunday golf friend is allowed to mark her ball every time it reaches the putting green. She isn’t breaking any rules. She’s just slowing us all down.

Comment With Facebook

User Review
5 (3 votes)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.