Rules of Golf Review: Our practice green sucks. Can I hit a few putts on the course before my round?
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 better be playing match play. That's because under the Rules of Golf, on the day of a stroke-play 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 stroke-play 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.
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 penalized 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 match-play competition, so feel free to practice on the course at any time before a match-play round. And, if it's your last stroke-play 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.