How to Determine Order of Play Around the Putting Green

Does a Golfer Off the Green Play Before Golfers Who Are on the Green?

Gary Wills of Hellidon Lakes Golf Club putting on the 9th green during The Lombard Trophy - Regional Qualifier
What is the order of play around the putting green? He who is farthest from the cup plays first, even if that means putting before someone else chips. Tony Marshall/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

The scenario: Three of the golfers in your group already have played their golf balls onto the putting green, but the fourth is still off the green, facing a chip shot, pitch shot or some other shot. What is the order of play? Does the golfer who is off the green automatically play first?

The answer: not necessarily. A golfer who is on the green might play before a golfer who is off the green if the one on the green is farther from the hole. One of the basic etiquette guidelines in golf—the golfer who is farthest from the hole plays first—still holds.

On, Off the Green Doesn't Really Matter—'Away' Plays First

This is a bit of golf etiquette that is frequently misunderstood by recreational golfers.

Everyone knows that the player who is "away" or "out" (meaning the golfer whose ball is farthest from the hole) plays first on each set of strokes. But when it comes to putting greens, many recreational players get the rule wrong. They believe that someone whose ball is off the green always plays before others whose balls are on the green. And that's incorrect.

It doesn't matter whether you're on the green or off. If you're farthest from the cup, then you play first. That means you might have to putt before your partner plays a shot, for example, from a bunker, if your putt is longer than your partner's bunker shot.

If your partner is short of the green, 30 feet from the cup, but you're on the green, 40 feet from the cup, you play first.

The golfer who is farthest from the cup plays first (see Rule 10), regardless of where that player is.

Is There a Penalty for Playing Out of Order In an On/Off Green Situation?

Keep in mind that a golfer who is on the green but farther from the cup than one who is off the green isn't necessarily required to play first. For example, a golfer may want extra time to read a lengthy putt while another who is closer but has an easy chip is ready to go. In a situation like that, the golfers might agree for the shorter shot to come first.

And note that in stroke play, there is no penalty for playing out of order (it's simply an issue of etiquette). If your group prefers the guy in the bunker play first, even though he's not out, that's fine. But the by-the-book procedure is for the player who is out to play first, even if that means putting before someone who is off the green plays their shot.

In match play, however, if you play out of order your it is a violation of the rules. And you opponent can require you to replay the stroke, which they will certainly do if you happened to hit a great shot.

Playing 'Ready Golf' Removes Any Confusion About Order of Play Around Greens

A great way for recreational golfers to remove any doubt about the proper order of play, around greens or anywhere else on the course, is for the group to agree to play ready golf. "Ready golf" simply means play when ready. Don't worry about which golfer in the group is farthest away from the hole. If you're the first golfer in your group who is ready to play the next stroke, do so. Playing ready golf has a nice added benefit, too: It speeds up play around the golf course.