On Your Mark

By Ron Kaspriske Illustrations by Brett Ryder
May 28, 2014

The act of marking, lifting and eventually putting your ball back on the course without violating a rule is a pretty simple procedure, right?

Or do you need our help sorting things out? For instance, do you know if you can mark a ball with a pebble? What happens if you mark your ball but accidentally move the marker? Can you clean a ball that's off the green?

Make sure you've got the basics covered by remembering these simple guidelines:

1. When the rules allow you to lift your ball, you must mark its position so you will know where to replace it. You, your partner or someone designated by you can do this. Although it's not mandatory, the marker should be a coin, ball marker or similar object, and it should be placed immediately behind the ball's position. In other words, marking with a pebble is not a rules violation, but it's not recommended. If your marker interferes with the stance, stroke or play of another golfer, it can be moved, but it has to be replaced before you replace the ball.

2. If you accidentally move the ball or the marker while trying to mark, lift or replace a ball, there is no penalty. But it must be directly attributable to the act of marking or replacing the ball. If you move either for any other reason, it's a one-stroke penalty and the ball or marker must be returned to its original position.

3. You can mark, lift and clean a ball on the green, but it's a violation to do so when another ball is in motion, as your ball might influence the outcome of that stroke. You can also mark and clean your ball in some instances when it's off the green: cleaning it, for example, just to the point where you can identify it. But don't clean it if you're inspecting it to see if it's damaged, or because it might interfere with or assist another ball in play. That's a one-stroke penalty. But it's OK to clean a ball when you're taking relief from an immovable obstruction.

4. Except when another ball is in motion, if you think your ball might assist another player, you can lift it. And if you think another ball will interfere with your play, you can have that ball lifted. Remember, those golf balls cannot be cleaned unless they're on the green.



Q: In stroke play, you pick up your ball without marking its position, and now you aren't sure where to replace it. What do you do?

A: First, take a stroke penalty for lifting a ball without properly marking it. Now estimate as near as possible the spot where the ball was when you lifted it, and continue play from that spot.

Q: In match play, your opponent holes out and then scoops up your ball marker, conceding your three-footer. Then he realizes your putt was to win the hole. Can he take back the concession?

A: No. Once a hole is conceded, play is over. However, if you had deceived your opponent about your score, and that's why he conceded, you'd lose the hole.



You would think that a golfer with a course handicap of 12 would have a decent chance of beating a scratch golfer, provided he was given his full 12 shots. But that golfer has only a 25-percent chance of winning, says Dean Knuth, former director of the USGA's handicap department.

"The USGA set up its system to favor better players with a built-in 'bonus for excellence,' " Knuth says. "It's a philosophy that handicaps should be based on potential rather than average ability."

For every six strokes in handicap difference, the better player has a one-stroke advantage, Knuth says. So in a match between an 8 and a 14, the 8-handicapper has a 60-percent chance of winning. You might want to remember that before wagering.