by Brent Kelley
Do the Rules of Golf allow golfers to draw alignment aids – for example, a line or arrow – on the golf ball?
Yes: Drawing a line around your golf ball, then using that line to help you line up your putt, is perfectly OK under the Rules of Golf.
THE PROS DO IT, SO CAN YOU
You’ve probably seen a professional golfer mark his or her ball on the green, lift the ball and spin it around to match a line s/he has drawn on the ball to the putting line.
This helps the golfer get the ball started on the correct line. It helps, in other words, with aim and alignment.
That’s why some golfers draw a line around, or partially around, the golf ball. There are even gadgets sold for the express purpose of helping golfers draw straight lines around the circumference of the ball:
Some golf balls are even manufactured with the company’s name or other labeling on the ball written in such a way – sometimes with arrows on either side of the text – that a golfer can use that as an alignment aid.
In fact, before golfers started writing on golf balls themselves – something that became very common in the first decade of the 2000s – it was a common sight to see pros turning the golf ball on the green so that such text “pointed” down the putting line.
If you aren’t already doing this, yet struggle with aim and alignment, give it a try.
It’s a very simple way to improve your aim.
WHERE DO THE RULES SAY IT’S OK TO DRAW LINES ON GOLF BALL?
But where, specifically, in the rulebook do the governing bodies – the USGA and R&A – give the OK to this practice?
Start with the idea that writing on golf balls is not only OK, it’s required under the rules: Rule 6-5 states that “(e)ach player should put an identification mark on his ball.” There is no limit on what that ID mark should be.
It can be anything you want, but you are required to mark your golf ball to make sure you can ID it later.
Rule 12-2 reiterates that every “player should put an identification mark on his ball.”
But in citing Rules 6-5 and 12-2, we’re just toying with you. Fact is, in a Decision to Rule 20-3 – which covers placing and replacing the golf ball – the governing bodies specifically say that an alignment line drawn on the golf ball is OK. It’s Decision 20-3a/2, and here is what it says:
20-3a/2 Using Line on Ball for Alignment
Q.May a player draw a line on his ball and, when replacing his ball, position the ball so that the line or the trademark on the ball is aimed to indicate the line of play?
Yes. Doesn’t get more direct or simple than that. (And note the Decision doesn’t limit a golfer to doing so on just the putting green. Of course, opportunities to do so off the putting green are very limited, since you are not allowed, in the regular course of play, to lift the ball unless it is on the green.)
Just make sure that when you line up your ball’s alignment line to your putting line that you follow proper procedure on the green.
Decision 18-2a/33 is titled, “Rotating Ball on Putting Green Without Marking Position.” The question asked is, “A player rotates his ball on the putting green to line up the trademark with the hole.
He did not lift the ball, mark its position or change its position. Is there a penalty?”
The answer is yes, a 1-stroke penalty. But so long as you follow procedure – use a ballmarker before lifting or rotating your golf ball – there’s no penalty.
So use that alignment edge the manufacturer’s trademark on a golf ball gives you, or draw your own line around the golf ball. It’s OK to do so, and it might even help your putting.