Is It Legal To Mark Your Ball With A Tee?

Someone, somewhere at some stage may well have told you that you can't mark your ball with a tee, but is that true? We take a look...

Tee being used as ball marker
Okay or not okay?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This could have the potential to be one of our shortest Rules articles ever. Why? Well, ‘yes’ is quite a short word!

From 2019 onwards, the definition of ‘ball-marker’ in the Rules of Golf expressly mentions that it is perfectly okay to use a tee to mark your ball on the putting green. It was before, to be honest, but that definition now brings unequivocal clarity to help counter those who might try to pull you up on it. According to that definition, a ball-marker is “an artificial object when used to mark the spot of a ball to be lifted, such as a tee, a coin, an object made to be a ball-marker or another small piece of equipment”.

Marking ball on green with a tee

The Rules say that it's fine to mark your ball on the green with a tee

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If the answer is so clear-cut, why is it even a question? Well, it’s one of those urban myths that has long rattled around the clubhouse walls at many a golf club. Someone, somewhere will at some stage have told someone else that sticking a tee in the green is testing the surface and they’re pretty sure there’s a Rule that says you can’t do that. And it’s stuck.

Now is the time to unstick it, although, to be fair, if you do use a tee rather than a standard ball-marker or flat coin, there is more chance of being asked to move your ball-marker aside more often as there is much more likelihood of a ball being stopped or deflected badly by something protruding a couple of inches above the ground than something lying flat on it. But that’s a matter of inconvenience rather than illegality.

As for deliberately testing the green, yes, that is prohibited under Rule 13.1e, but only in two specific ways. That Rule says, “During a round and while play is stopped under Rule 5.7a, a player must not deliberately take either of these actions to test the putting green or a wrong green – rub the surface or roll a ball.” Even then, this only applies while you are playing that hole and you may then do both those things on that green once you have completed the hole.

If you think about it logically, what would sticking a tee in a green really tell you about how your putt might perform anyway? Precious little and certainly no more or less than you would learn from fixing one (or more) pitchmarks on that green before you putt by sticking a pitchmark repairer or tee in - and we all know that we’re encouraged to do that.

Marking ball with natural object on the green

Don't be tempted to use a natural object like this piece of bark to mark your ball as that is not allowed under the Rules

(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

One word of warning though. Note that the definition of ball-marker does say that whatever you use must be an “artificial object”. So don’t be tempted to use a natural object or loose impediment such as a twig, leaf or stone to mark your ball as that is not allowed and will cost you a penalty stroke.

Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly. He is an expert on the Rules of Golf having qualified through an R&A course to become a golf referee. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played 1,000 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts. He reached the 1,000 mark on his 60th birthday in October 2023 on Vale do Lobo's Ocean course. Put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response