Written by Joyce McCann, 18er Rules Chair 

What do the Rules say about practicing on the course before and during a round?

Have you ever wished you could practice a little on the course before you start your round? And, during the round, if your game starts falling apart, wouldn’t it be nice to hit a few practice chips or putts to get your rhythm back?  Well, perhaps surprisingly, within strict limits, Rules 5.2 and 5.5 allow you to do these things. (You should also be aware that the Committee has the right to make a Rule that it is illegal to practice before or during a round.)

Practicing on the course before the round (Rule 5.2). The Rule is very simple.

If the round you are about to play is Stroke Play, you CANNOT practice on the course on the same day of your round. You can’t even walk out onto a green and roll balls or rub the green to test the surface. But you can practice chipping on or near your first teeing area and you can practice your putting stroke — just not on a putting green other than a practice putting green.

BUT, if the round you are about to play is Match Play, you CAN go out on the course before your round and practice to your heart’s content!

[FOR RULES NERDS] The Rules don’t give a reason for the different requirements for Stroke Play and Match Play, but a Rules expert I consulted speculated that the reason was that, in Stroke Play, you are playing against the entire field of players. So, to be fair, everyone should have the same opportunity to practice on the course before the round. If one or two players got to practice and the rest couldn’t, that wouldn’t be fair. In contrast, in Match Play, you’re only playing against one other person (or you and your partner are playing against an opponent and her partner), so their ability to practice is probably as good as yours! I think that explanation makes a lot of sense.

Practicing on the course during the round (Rule 5.5).

While you are playing a hole, you cannot hit a practice shot (Rule 5.5a).  But, between holes you can practice, with limitations (Rule 5.5b). Specifically, you can practice, either on or near the putting green of the hole you just completed or on or near the teeing area of the hole you are to play next. However, you can’t do this if it unreasonably delays play – e.g., if people are waiting behind you.

  1. In Individual Stroke or Match Play, once you have holed out, you can practice putting or chipping on or near the same green even if others in your foursome or your opponent haven’t yet holed out. While this is permitted by the Rules, some might consider it rude or poor etiquette. So, if you choose to do this, it should be done discreetly so it doesn’t distract players who haven’t yet holed out.
  2. If you are playing with a partner (e.g., Four-Ball Team Play), you can practice putting or chipping on or near the same green, but only after both you and your partner have holed out, or after the outcome of the hole has been decided.Practice Picture

Bottom Line. When the 18ers have a Match Play tournament, go out on the course before you tee off and practice as much as you want (provided you have a yearly pass or are willing to pay a green fee!). When the tournament is Stroke Play, do not practice on the course before your tee time. During either a Stroke or Match Play round, don’t hesitate to practice your putting or chipping within the limitations specified in Rule 5.5b indicated above. But be sure to do this without distracting other players or delaying play.