Rules Column: Russ Wing

It is important to know when NOT to repair a pitch mark

The Washington Junior Golf Association recently held its State Championship at Fircrest Golf Club near Tacoma, WA. During that event, a player was penalized for repairing a pitch mark. Say what? Aren’t we always supposed to repair pitch marks? Let’s take a look at this situation to see why the player was penalized.

Accompanying this article is a photo of the #9 green at Fircrest Golf Club, where I have recreated the player’s situation. In the foreground, you can see the player’s ball that is off the green but near the green, and you can see that the grass is nicely mowed just a bit longer than green height. Near the back of the green you can see the flagstick. Just ahead of the ball, on the player’s line of play, there is an orange tee marking the location of a pitch mark off the green. This was the player’s situation.

Faced with this situation, where the grass off the green was nicely mowed and relatively smooth, the player decided to putt the ball. The only complication was the pitch mark that was on the player’s line of play. So the player repaired the pitch mark and played the shot with a putter.

What did the player do wrong? The player violated Rule 8.1 (Player’s Actions That Improve Conditions Affecting the Stroke) by repairing the pitch mark that was on the player’s line of play and OFF the putting green, when the player had chosen to putt the ball. If the pitch mark had been on the player’s line of play and ON the putting green, the player would have been allowed to repair it. Alternatively, if the player had chosen to chip the ball instead of putt it, the player could have made a good case that the repair was done to care for the course and not to improve the line of play of the chip, because the chip went over the pitch mark. But because the player had chosen to putt the ball, the pitch mark repair improved the line of play OFF the putting green, a violation of Rule 8.1.

Can the Rules of Golf sometimes be complicated? Yes, they can. Get to know the new Rules of Golf. You’ll be glad you did, sorry if you don’t.