124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

Rules of Golf

Rules of Golf Review: Do I get relief from aeration holes?

June 01, 2023


It's springtime, which means among other things that your golf-course superintendent is probably trying to gussy up his or her place for the prime summer months. During this transitional period, you'll likely have to putt through top-dressing sand, deal with bare lies and, the worst, navigate your ball past thousands of aeration holes.

It might occur to you that aeration holes should be treated as ground under repair, meaning you can move your ball if it gets stuck in one. Sorry. Not so.

The Rules of Golf says aeration holes are a normal part of golf-course conditions. Specifically, they "do not fall within the meaning of a hole made by the maintenance staff, and thus are not ground under repair."

What that translates to is that you can't repair them on the green (or anywhere else on the course) and you can't take relief from them. If you play from the wrong place after moving the ball out of an aeration hole, or use your divot tool to repair one on your putting line, it's officially a two-stroke penalty or loss of hole in match play (general penalty).

This might seem really unfair, especially when these holes negatively effect what would otherwise be a good shot. So what can be done? A committee may choose to use a local rule to give relief (Model Local Rule E-4). If this local rule is in effect, you may take free relief when your ball lies in or touches an aeration hole in the general area or on the putting green. That relief does not apply to any holes that interfere with your stance or line of play.

Meanwhile, if you’re just playing a friendly match with your buddies, you might decide you are your own “committee” and put the MLR in place, too (we won’t tell anybody).

If you're unsure as to why golf courses punch holes in the turf, here's a great explanation from Oakland Hills Country Club superintendent Phil Cuffare.