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Topic Contents

On The Putting Green

Flagstick,  Marking,  Lifting,  Cleaning,  Stymie

Clubs and Balls

Teeing Ground
Order of play
Falling off tee

Playing the Ball
Wrong, Substitute
Lifting, dropping
Moved, deflected

Provisional, Lost, Out of bounds

Putting Green
Marking, lifting

Hazards, Penalty Areas
Water hazards
Lateral water hazards

Abnormal Conditions
Casual water, Temporary water
Hole, cast, or runway

Loose impediments

Rule 1
Rule 3-3
Old Course, St Andrews
Wartime local rules
Best ever golf poem

You drive for show but putt for dough  -  Bobby Locke

The Putting Green
The area around the hole, also called the 'hole green' or 'table-land' in the 18th and 19th centuries, was not distinct from the rest of the course, nor specially prepared, until a separate teeing ground came into use from 1875.

The 'putting green' made its first appearance in 1812 without definition, in Rules 8 and 13, then defined in the 1815 Aberdeen code as being within 15 yards (13.71m) of the hole, and in 1829 St. Andrews rules as being within 20 yards (18.28 m).  Both the terms 'putting green' and 'table land' were used in 1875. In 1842 the R&A decided that a ball to be played with a heavy or click-iron from a broken or uneven surface was not regarded as being on the putting green even if within 20 yards of the hole.

R&A 1882 definition amended to be within 20 yards of the hole, excluding hazards.  That definition lasted until 1952, when the putting green was given its present day definition of being an area specially prepared for putting.  But, references to being within 20 yds of the hole still existed in relation to a ball striking the flagstick until 1956, or a competitor's ball in stroke play until 1968 when finally, all 20-yard references were removed.
Other innovations from the 1888 R&A rules include not touching the line of putt and not being allowed to play until one's opponent's ball has ceased moving.

Also in 1968, putting astride or touching the line of putt banned.

The hole size was standardised in 1891 at the dimensions of today.

Here's a decision showing how important even the depth of the hole is:

206: Bishop Auckland Golf Club.
In a stroke competition, A's ball lay less than six inches from the hole. He played his ball into the hole, but the ball struck an upright socket in the bottom of the lining and sprang out. The ball then lay on the lip of the hole, and was duly holed. The hole was admittedly not 4 inches deep. A, whose score was one stroke more than that of the winner, protested. What is the duty of the Committee in this case?
Answer: No deduction can be made from A's score. If A's protest amounts to a claim that the competition should be re-played with holes made in accordance with the provisions of definition 11 [now definition of 'Hole'], his claim should be allowed.

The Flagstick
First mention 1875, but certainly in use before then.

1875 either party may have the flagstick removed when approaching the hole.  This stayed in force until 1956.

R&A 1882 when a ball is within 20 yds of the hole, the flagstick must be removed (in stroke play) - 1899 rules included a one stroke penalty for a breach.  No penalty in match play for hitting the flagstick, attended or not.

R&A 1882 when a ball rests against the flagstick, the stick may be removed.

1902 Loss of hole for striking a flagstick that had been removed by player's own side. In stroke play, the flagstick must be removed before playing when ball from within 20 yards, penalty 1 stroke.

1908 Stroke play, rule changed to 2 strokes penalty for hitting the flagstick or a person standing at the hole.  1912 word change to read 'strikes, or is stopped by...'

1933 loss of hole for striking a flagstick removed or held by the player's own side - if held or removed by opponents, then THEY lost the hole.  Stroke play rule unchanged.

The 1952 code restated that striking an unattended flagstick from anywhere carried no penalty in match play, or from over 20 yards from the hole in stroke play.  Striking the flagstick or the person attending it from within 20 yards carried a 2 stroke penalty.

1956 Rule was rewritten.  Now the responsibilities and penalties fell to the player, and match and stroke play were treated the same.  Two strokes or loss of hole if the player's ball struck the flagstick or the person attending it.  No penalty for striking an unattended flagstick from any distance.

1960 In adjusting the flagstick, the player may leave it at whatever angle it is found at, or set it upright. He cannot tilt the stick to his advantage (decision, 1956).

1968 penalty of loss of hole or 2 strokes for hitting an unattended flagstick with stroke from the putting green.

2019 A player putting now has a choice of having the flagstick removed or left in place.

It has always been the case that the flagstick can be removed when a ball is at rest against it and should the ball fall in, it is considered holed. However, 2019 a ball resting against the flagstick is considered to be holed if any part of the ball is below surface level.

Ball on Edge of Hole
1899 if the ball fall in, it is deemed to be holed out - no time limit specified.

1908 player shall play 'without delay'.

1952 (1947 USGA) On the putting green, a player is allowed a 'momentary delay' to ensure his ball is at rest. Also, 1956 Separate paragraph for a ball on the lip of the hole disappears.

1964 section for a ball on the lip of the hole reappears; player is allowed 'a few seconds'.

1984 player now has time to reach the hole without unreasonable delay plus 10 secs.

1988 penalty reduced from two stokes to one stroke. The penalty was also briefly one stroke in the 1950 code, but reverted to two strokes in 1952.

Marking, Lifting and Cleaning
From the beginning, lifting was allowed only if the player's ball touched another ball (1744 rule 6), then within 6 inches from 1775 (HCEG) (See also stymie).

1891 Stroke play player has option of lifting or playing out an assisting ball.

1902 Match play: Ball may be lifted at the option of either player within 1 club length, through the green or in a hazard, or within 6 inches on the putting green.
Stroke play: Player may have a ball played or lifted at the owner's option anywhere if he feels it may interfere with his stroke (changed to '...with his play' in 1912).

1908 Ball may be lifted for identification with opponent's consent (match) or in the presence of a competitor (stroke).

1908 Stroke play: On the putting green if a player whose ball is nearer the hole may assist another's play, he may lift or play it.

1956 on the putting green, ball 'should' be marked, small coin or similar recommended. Changed to 'shall be marked' in 1976.

1984 ball must be marked before being lifted anywhere on course if it is to be replaced. Use of a ball marker or small object recommended (1988 became ball-marker, a small coin or other similar object).

Cleaning of a ball was first mentioned in the rules in USGA 1915, 'cleaning a ball in play entails a penalty of disqualification in stroke competition and loss of the hole in match play, except under special rulings by committee in charge'. This severe penalty in stroke play was 2 strokes in 1938. Cleaning was permitted when a ball was lifted from a water hazard, casual water or GUR or to the extent necessary for identification.

There is an early decision which shows how the authorities considered the subject of cleaning, however:

95: Queen's Club, Maidenhead.
Some of the greens are under repair and covered with charcoal and sand. A ball lying on such ground may, by local rule, be lifted and placed not nearer the hole. May a ball lifted under the local rule be cleaned before being placed, in order to remove sand and charcoal? There is no local rule which allows a player to wipe a ball.
Answer: Certainly not.

1950 R&A 'Unless permitted by local rule a ball in play may not be cleaned'.

1952 ball may be cleaned for identification, from GUR, water hazards, abnormal conditions and when allowed by a local rule.
1956 add unplayable.

1960 Lifting a ball on the putting green was allowed, so cleaning was added to the list.  In match play ball must be replaced immediately if opponent so requests.

1968 add from obstruction; also in 1968 on the putting green to first putt only, penalty for breach 1 stroke. Rescinded 1970.

1980 add embedded ball, wrong green.  Penalty reduced to 1 stroke.

1984 add when play suspended. Removal of requirement to replace the ball on the putting green in match play.

1988 the list was getting so long, the rule was changed to list when ball may not be cleaned.

The Stymie
A stymie was possible only in matches involving one ball per side.  On the putting green, if two players' balls were more than six inches apart, there was no provision for the ball nearer the hole to be lifted.   If that ball lay directly in the way to the hole of the ball to be played then the player was 'stymied.'

He could try to play around or over the interfering ball, but if the nearer ball was struck, no penalty ensued. However, the opponent had the option of playing the ball as it lay or replacing it.   If the nearer ball had been knocked into the hole the opponent was considered to have holed out with his previous stroke.

The stymie was really born by default. In the original rules of 1744 only when balls were touching could one be lifted.

This was adjusted by the Gentlemen Golfers Of Leith in 1775 to touching or within 6 inches of each other.

1789 Gentlemen Golfers introduced this rule: 'In all time coming, in case in playing over the links any ball shall lye in the way of his opponent's the distance of six inches upon the hole green, it shall be in the power of the party playing to cause his opponent to move said ball'.

1812: St Andrews re-worded the rule slightly, but the principle of the stymie remained:  'When the balls lie within six inches of one another, the ball nearest the hole must be lifted till the other is played, but on the putting green it shall not be lifted, although within six inches, unless it lie directly between the other and the hole'.

1830 Montrose code specified that the rule did not apply to stroke play or four-balls.

Sept 1833 St Andrews Golfers voted to abolish it, but it was reinstated the following year (by the now R&A) as 'When the balls lie within six inches of each other in any situation the ball nearest the hole to be lifted until the other is played'.

The word stymie only appeared in the rules rarely: Musselburgh 1834, 1851 and 1858 R&A, applied to all stroke play. The USGA used the term in notes to Rule 31 in 1938 and 1947.  However, all the rules books of the 20th century, up to its abolition, used 'Stymie' in the index.

1891 R&A rules vaguely tried to remove the stymie from stroke play, stating that the ball may be lifted by the owner if he felt that it may be of advantage to the other player, or 'throughout the green' a player could have any ball lifted which might interfere with his stroke - but 'throughout the green' was not defined.
1899 Stroke Rule 11 and Medal Rule 9 stated the same thing.

The wording was made much clearer in 1902.

1920 USGA had a one-year trial of allowing the stymied player to concede his opponent's next putt.

1938 USGA introduced a modified stymie rule, initially for a trial period of two years, allowing a ball within 6 ins of the hole to be lifted if it was interfering, regardless of distance between balls. The rule was subsequently made permanent from 1941.

1950 abolished by USGA completely, but the organisations affiliated to the R&A were not inclined to do away with it.

Finally abolished worldwide in the joint rules of 1952. Now, lifting on the putting green was at option of owner or opponent if it was felt that the ball would interfere or be of assistance.

1956 In match play, the rule was changed such that the ball nearer the hole could only be lifted at the request of the player about to play.   In effect, the player about to play had 'control' over his opponent's ball.

From 1984, a ball may be lifted if it may interfere with or assist another player in all forms of play.

A small echo of the stymie can still be found in the Rules - on the putting green if a player's putt strikes an opponent's ball, there is no penalty in match play but it's a two-stroke penalty in stroke play.

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