How’s your putting green etiquette? Maybe not as good as you think.
The putting green etiquette of having the flag in, out or tended is not automatic. If I had a birdie for every time I asked someone putting from just off the green, “Would you like me to tend?” and she answered “I’m off the green,” as if to say, “No,” I’d be a scratch golfer!
It is one of the great fallacies among golfers that if your ball is not on the putting surface, you may not have the flag tended. You may have someone tend (stand by the flag and remove it when you strike the ball) anytime it would help you see the hole better and you believe it would give you a better chance of making a shot.
I know players who always want the pin removed when they are chipping, and others who want the pin left in the hole whenever they are not required to remove it. It’s a matter of personal preference — often a matter of the mind, not the stroke.
Here’s a 12-point guide to putting green etiquette guaranteed to enhance your good manners and your pace of play.
NOTE: All references to tournament play refer to stroke play. Match play rules and penalties vary.
1. Who is in charge of the flag?
Generally, the player whose ball is closest to the hole marks her ball and asks if anyone would like the flag in or tended. If not, she removes the flag. If so, she waits until everyone is on the green and has a good view of the hole.
2. Where do you put the flag?
In casual rounds, the flag is generally placed near the players but not in a place where any putt might strike it and incur a penalty. The Rules of Golf’s etiquette section would like you to place the flag just off the putting surface.
3. Where should I avoid walking on the green?
Here’s a complicated one, full of don’ts. 1. Don’t step on the line of someone else’s putt — even though today’s shoes do little damage to putting greens, it is a point of manners not to tred where a ball is going to roll. 2. Don’t walk around if you are in the field of vision of someone who is ready to putt. 3. Try to keep your feet outside a three-foot circle around the hole when picking up your ball.
4. The hole looks damaged. Should I fix it?
In a tournament, not before your group has putted out. In casual play, it is a considerate thing to do before anyone has putted.
5. Who putts first?
In tournaments, it is always the turn of the player farthest from the hole, whether on or off the green. In casual rounds, we invite players who are off the green to “come on up” before we remove the flag. And for pace of play, if you are ready and someone else is still marking and cleaning, go for it!
6. I’m away, but if I putt I’ll be stepping on the marker of my friend who is a litte closer. What should I do?
Explain the situation to your friend and tell her she can go first if she’d like. If she declines, don’t worry about where you are stepping.
7. I’m worried my ball or marker is in someone’s way. Should I move it?
No, don’t worry about it. It is up to the player to ask for a ball to be marked or a marker to be moved. It might be helpful, however, for you to use a small flat marker in this situation rather than the big, glitzy pieces of jewelry many women wear on their hats.
8. I missed my putt. Can I just go ahead and finish up?
Yes, and you don’t have to ask. Just say, “I’ll finish.” Never say, “I’ll try to finish,” unless you are entertaining the notion of missing.
9. My ball is on the green, but there is rough between it and the hole. May I chip it?
Many players hesitate to do this because they fear they will damage the surface. But you certainly may chip your ball when it is on the green! Just be sure to repair the divot.
10. Where should I stand when someone else is putting?
You should not be standing directly behind or opposite her, even if you stand in the rough. One way to remember: Stand in a place where you are looking at her face or her butt. The idea is not to be in her peripheral vision. For pace-of-play, try standing in a place where you can study your putt so that you are prepared when it is your turn.
11. Another player is just a little bit farther away from the hole, on the same line as my ball, and I would really like to watch her putt. How can I do that without bothering her?
Try standing where you are looking at her face, and then after the putt leaves her putter face you can move in closer and watch the ball roll.
12. Who puts back the flag?
The first player to finish putting should move to the flagstick and prepare to return it to the hole; a good pace-of-play alternative, when some players are walking and some are riding, is for the riders always to restore the flagstick while the walkers head for the next hole.