Golf's Rule 13 Discusses the Putting Green

Two golfers on a putting green

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In the Official Rules of Golf, jointly written and maintained by the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Rule 13 is titled "Putting Greens."

The purpose of the rule, as excerpted from the rule book, is this:

Rule 13 is a specific Rule for putting greens. Putting greens are specially prepared for playing the ball along the ground and there is a flagstick for the hole on each putting green, so certain different Rules apply than for other areas of the course.

It is the responsibility of golfers to know the rules, and the USGA and R&A have tons of resources on their respective websites to help us learn and understand. These are links directly to the text of Rule 13 that is found on the governing bodies' websites:

Summarizing Rule 13: Putting Greens

In our Quick Intro to the Rules of Golf, we summarize Rule 13 as follows:

  • The putting green is a specially prepared area around the flagstick. 
  • You may brush away leaves and other loose impediments, but otherwise, do not touch your line of putt.
  • You may repair ball marks, old hole plugs, or marks made by spikes or shoes before playing.
  • Always mark your ball by putting a small coin or another marker behind it when you want to pick it up to clean it or get out of another player's way.
  •  When putting you may have the flagstick removed or left in place, as you wish.
  •  If your ball overhangs the edge of the hole you can wait ten seconds to see if it drops in. If it falls in after 10 seconds, add a penalty stroke to your score.

There are three sections within Rule 13. Rule 13.1 is titled "Actions Allowed or Required on Putting Greens." This is how the governing bodies introduce this section of Rule 13:

This Rule allows you to do things on the putting green that are normally not allowed off the putting green, such as being allowed to mark, lift, clean and replace your ball and to repair damage and remove sand and loose soil on the putting green. There is no penalty for accidentally causing your ball or ball-marker to move on the putting green.

Rule 13.2 addresses the flagstick, and the governing bodies explain:

This Rule covers your choices for dealing with the flagstick. You may leave the flagstick in the hole or have it removed (which includes having someone attend the flagstick and remove it after your ball is played), but you must decide before making a stroke. There is normally no penalty if a ball in motion hits the flagstick.

Rule 13.3 is titled "Ball Overhanging Hole."

Be sure to read the full Rule 13, interpretations of Rule 13, and definitions of important terms either on USGA.org or RandA.org.