Defining the Green (or 'Putting Green') on Golf Courses

The green on a golf course in Hawaii
Every hole ends with a 'green,' or 'putting green.'. Ron Dahlquist/Perspectives/Getty Images

The green, or putting green, is the culmination of a golf hole, where the flagstick and hole are located. Getting the golf ball into the hole on the putting green is the object of the game of golf. Every hole on every golf course in existence ends at the putting green.

Greens can vary widely in shape and size, but are most commonly oval or oblong in shape. They can sit level with the fairway or be elevated above the fairway. They can be flat, sloped from one side to the other or contoured all around their surface. In other words, there are no hard-and-fast "rules" about what size or shape or other design elements a putting green must have. What a green looks like, and how it plays, are up to the course designer.

In addition to green and putting green, they are often called "golf greens," and, in slang, might be referred to as the "dance floor" or the "table top."

Official Definition of 'Putting Green' in the Rules

The definition of "putting green" that appears in the Rules of Golf, written and maintained by the USGA and R&A, is short and simple in the condensed Player's Edition:

"The area on the hole you are playing that is specially prepared for putting, or the Committee has defined as the putting green (such as when a temporary green is used)."

The governing bodies expand on that definition in the Full Edition of the rule book, however, adding this:

The putting green for a hole contains the hole into which the player tries to play a ball. The putting green is one of the five defined areas of the course. The putting greens for all other holes (which the player is not playing at the time) are wrong greens and part of the general area.
The edge of a putting green is defined by where it can be seen that the specially prepared area starts (such as where the grass has been distinctly cut to show the edge), unless the Committee defines the edge in a different way (such as by using a line or dots).

Rule 13 in the rule book is titled "Putting Greens" and goes over actions that are and are not allowed on the green, issues dealing with the flagstick, and what to do when a golf ball lodges against the flagstick.

Another thing golfers need to be aware of on the putting green is good golf etiquette, which includes taking care of the course. Here are several related entries in our Beginners FAQ:

Defining Some Specific Types of Greens

Double Greens

A "double green" is a very large green that serves two different holes on the golf course. Double greens have two holes and two flagsticks, and are large enough to accommodate two different groups of golfers playing the green simultaneously (each playing their own hole, of course).

Double greens occasionally show up on parkland-style courses. But while they are not common anywhere, they are much more likely to be found in older, links courses of Great Britain and Ireland.

On The Old Course at St. Andrews, for example, all but four holes end in double greens

Alternate Greens

When two different putting greens are constructed for the same golf hole, the hole is said to have "alternate greens."

It is unusual for one golf hole to have two separate greens, but not unheard of, on 18-hole courses. However, where alternate greens are more often (but still infrequently) used is on 9-hole courses. Golfers might play to one set of greens (say, marked with blue flags on the pin) during the first nine, and the second set of greens (say, marked with red flags) on the second nine.

In that way, the 9-hole course offers a different look on the second go-round.

However, maintaining two different greens for each hole is a time-consuming and expensive prospect. So most 9-hole courses that want to provide a different look for golfers the second time around use alternate tees rather than alternate greens.

Note that alternate greens and double greens are not the same thing. Alternate greens are two separate, distinct greens built for one golf hole. A double green is a single, large putting green with two flagsticks, the terminus for two different holes. Double greens are more common than alternate greens.

Punchbowl Green

A "punchbowl green" is a putting surface that sits inside a hollow or depressed area on a golf hole, so that the putting green appears as a "bowl" with a (relatively) flat bottom and sides rising up from that bottom. The bottom is the putting surface, the "sides" of the bowl typically consist of mounding around three sides of the putting surface. The front of a punchbowl green is open to the fairway to allow golf balls to run onto the green, and the fairway often runs down to a punchbowl green.

Punchbowl greens originated in the early days of golf course design. Architect Bryan Silva, writing in a Links Magazine article, explained that punchbowl greens developed out of necessity: "... a not uncommon 19th-century design scheme whereby greens were positioned in existing depressions to capture and conserve as much moisture as possible."

With modern irrigation techniques, punchbowl designs are no longer necessary, and they are not common today, but some architects enjoy including such greens here and there.

Crowned Green

A crowned green is a putting green whose highest point is near its center, so that the green slopes down from its middle out toward its edges. Crowned greens are also known as domed greens, turtleback greens or tortoise-shell greens.

Putting Green Maintenance and Green Speeds

We'll first offer another definition of a green-specific term, "double-cut greens." A "double cut" green is one that has been mowed twice in the same day, usually back-to-back in the morning (although a superintendent may choose to mow once in the morning and once in the late afternoon or evening). The second mowing is usually in a direction perpendicular to the first mowing.

Double cutting is one way a golf course superintendent can increase the speed of the putting greens. And speaking of the speed of greens, have putting greens gotten faster over the years? You bet they have (click the preceding link for an article on how green speeds have increased in golf).

And finally, see our article about the aeration of golf greens for more about how putting green surfaces and turfs are maintained by golf course staff.