Most courses have a green somewhere near the first tee where you can get some putting practice in before you play. It’s supposed to be the place where you groove your stroke and get a good sense of how fast the greens are rolling that day. Unfortunately, if you play golf long enough, you’ll begin to suspect that the practice putting green isn’t anything like the greens on the course.

That suspicion might tempt you to walk over to the nearest green on the course and warm up there. Well… if you’re looking to get out on the course before a round to get some work in, and you’re playing in any formal competition, you’d better be playing matchplay. That’s because under the Rules of Golf, on the day of a strokeplay round, playing a ball from anywhere on the course, or testing the surface of the putting green of any hole by rolling a ball or rubbing the surface, is a violation of Rule 5.2b.

What does that mean, practically? Well, if you were to, say, hit a putt on a hole close to the clubhouse, you’d have to start your round with a two-stroke penalty. If you did it again, you could be disqualified. The only permissible practice on the course on the day of a strokeplay round would be to chip or putt on or near the teeing area of your first hole. That includes wherever you begin in a shotgun event or the 10th hole teeing area should you be going off the back nine.

You should also pay particular attention to the phrase “rubbing the surface”. It means you can’t even go up to the 18th green and brush your hand against the grass. Although to clarify, you’re only penalised once no matter how many times you do this prior to the round.

The Rules don’t, however, have the same prohibition if you’re playing in a matchplay competition, so feel free to practise on the course at any time before a matchplay round. And, if it’s your last strokeplay round of the day, you’re also OK to hit some shots or putt. Keep in mind that the committee can adopt a model local rule to prohibit pre-round, on-course practice, so be sure to check first.


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