Is it fair to use a golf greens guide for putting?

This story was updated on July 31 with the R&A and USGA announcing their plans to limit the use of green-reading materials beginning in 2019, "reaffirming the need for a player to read greens based on their own judgment, skill and ability." For more details on the announcement, please click here.

Let's be honest: Most golfers aren't very good at reading greens. Sure, many know they're supposed to imagine where the water runs off, and the big breaks are easy enough to see, but the subtle ones as well as double and triple breaks are often a guessing game. And then there's the issue of whether a putt is uphill, downhill or level. That's not always obvious.

Some recreational golfers are even familiar with the technique of AimPoint. For most of us, though, our understanding of AimPoint begins and ends with watching tour players hold up one, two or three fingers in front of their faces while they squint and look at the hole.

Then, of course, there's plumb-bobbing. Most golfers don't really understand that either. And as short-game guru and former NASA engineer Dave Pelz explains, "You can plumb-bob any putt as straight." And he's right, you can. (He proved it to me.)

An easier way to get good reads on the greens is to be armed with information. A caddie who knows the course can sure help. Or just as good, and maybe even more effective, is to use a greens guide, one that's prepared by a professional company like StrackaLine, or even one that a golfer draws in advance. In either case, having that greens guide can provide a distinct advantage over other players who are just winging it on their own.

Greens guides like this one provided by Strackaline show slopes and fall lines to help golfers read putts.

StrackaLine's chart of the 18th green at Sea Island (Ga.).

But how much information is too much information? At what point, if any, does having drawings that depict every slope and the severity of those slopes create an unfair advantage? After all, don't all players have the same opportunity to purchase, obtain or create their own guides? And you still have to make a good stroke.

These are the questions that the United States Golf Association and Royal & Ancient have been mulling over for at least a year, and now they've announced that beginning on Jan. 1, the USGA and R&A indeed will restrict the amount of information allowed in green reading material. On July 31, in a joint announcement, the two associations essentially revealed that there will be limitations on how much information greens guides can have in them. Primarily, they will not be allowed to indicated slopes of less than 4 percent or 2.9 degrees, which are pretty obvious to the naked eye anyway. In other words, golfers will have to be able to read the more subtle breaks themselves, which are usually the ones that are found around the hole locations.

What players will still be allowed to do, though, is take notes like they usually do in practice rounds and use them later. Again, for more details, checked out Nick Menta's story on As customers in cases like this, the proposal will be subject to a six-week period of "feedback and consultation with interested parties," with a final draft coming on Oct. 15.

A lot will change, on the tour and on your home course

Essentially, the reasoning behind this change is that the ruling bodies believe being able to read greens on your own by processing the information at hand, whether that's visually or by feel, is part of the skills that separate the best players from the other players in the field.

That's all well and good, says Jim Stracka, who founded StrackaLine back in 2007 with his son, Chase. But Stracka, before this latest announcement by the associations, said golf is difficult enough already. Plus, the pros already have a distinct advantage over most amateurs. They have caddies.

"When a golfer employs a caddie, the caddie usually reads the putts," Stracka said. "That is not fair."
His suggestion?

"Let tournament directors make a 'local rule' to limit printed material if they want to," says Stracka.

In other words, there's really no need to change the rules for everyone, especially the amateur players. Plus, he said, the greens guide is really just an extension of the yardage guides, which have been around forever and aren't subject to any new rulings.

Another point Stracka makes is that most green reading is really by memory anyway, either from playing the course beforehand or studying film of tournaments played on those courses. Most likely when you go to a course like Pebble Beach, it's not the caddie's green reading ability more than it is his or her knowledge of those greens, built up over working there for hundreds of rounds.

There's already a rule in place that (16-1a) that doesn't allow a player to walk the intended line of the putt to get a feel for the break or create a trough to the hole. Nope, you've got to figure out another way to read that line, and one of the ways currently is by using a prepared greens map of some sort.

Of course, you can also do a little research on your own and create your own notes. Players have been doing that for decades. During practice rounds, you can use a leveling device to precisely map out greens and putts. There are apps you can download on your phone that you can use or you can buy an electronic device like the BreakMaster Digital Green Reader ($109 on or the Sure Putt Golf Putting Aid ($30), which is just a level designed for golf course greens. None of these types of devices are legal for play, of course.

StrackaLine provides valuable resource

Really, though, the most accurate greens guides are created by companies like StrackaLine (or GolfLogix, which has an extensive online database). It's been a growing business. To date, the company, which also creates yardage guides, has charted more than 700 golf courses, which includes some of North America's most prominent layouts, including TPC Sawgrass, Bethpage and the site of the 2018 PGA Championship, Bellerive Country Club, just to name a few.

What StrackaLine does is a little more sophisticated than what a golfer does when he or she charts a course's greens. The company uses a sophisticated scanning process to precisely map out greens. It charges a course $1,500 to scan its greens, and that includes 100 greens guides for resale. The scanning process takes five hours to complete and is unobtrusive to the golfer experience.

Strackaline uses laser equipment to scan golf course greens. An entire course can be done in about five hours without interrupting play.

Laser equipment used to scan a green by StrackaLine.

These greens guides are used by players on the PGA, LPGA, Symetra and tours, in addition to their use by more than 300 Division I college teams and amateurs at every level. Golfers can purchase the guides for as little as $97 for a specific course's greens or get a combo yardage and greens guide or subscribe to the company's app for for $179 a year. The app has all sorts of customizable features that allow the user to move the pins.

The greens maps feature arrows that show slopes as to allow players to view contour and fall lines, in addition to slope percentage, anywhere on the green. It's basically a contour map with more detail and information.

Stracka, of course, has been monitoring the USGA and R&A's actions closely. He also points out that greens guides help speed up play, which makes sense if you think about it. An accurate greens guide might eliminate some of the plumb-bobbing and walking around greens (at least from amatuers and recreational players) that seem to slow up play.

Stracka makes some other points as well. While pros have a team behind them that can get them all sorts of information one way or another, amateurs don't have that luxury.

We would like to know what you think. Should greens guides be legal for competition? Should they be limited? Let us know in the comment section below.

Mike Bailey is a former Golf Advisor senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. He has also been on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
Commented on

Does not make a darn bit of difference if the golfer is not an innately skilled golfer!
When all of this technology is bought and used, if the golfer does not have what is needed on the golf course, all this equipment will not make him a pro. A lot of that is mental focus with mental strength of steel, and tenacity...and of course, God given talent.

Commented on

No. Let the pros read the green like I do, with my eyes and feet.

Commented on

I believe they should be banned from amateur and professional competition as they tend to provide an unfair advantage to those who have enough money to purchase the best. To me the green slope guides should fall under the same limitation currently in effect for competition in using upslope/downslope feature of rangefinders.
I very much appreciate having the opportunity to input my opinion.

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Commented on

Play the game, read the greens. Would you allow a protractor in Nok-hockey

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Commented on

Legal for amateurs, illegal for pros

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Just go and PLAY . . . It’s a GAME. :-)
Competition can do what it likes.

Commented on

Playing golf is rapidly losing its appeal particularly to the mid to younger generation.Perhaps the best way to speed up play is to double or treble the size of the holes. This would considerably reduce the putting time spent by every player.
Putting skill would still be required and the best putter would still have the advantage.

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Commented on

Absolutely not during "Tournament" play. They are fine during practice rounds, let's face it, the Pro's and their caddies draw these in their notebooks during practice rounds and they know what the pin placements will be for each day, so they can draw the subtleties in they notes. Using this during tournaments is crazy, and takes away one of the great skills these professionals should have and maintain.

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Do not allow. Between the pro and the caddie, if they can’t read a green (putt), maybe they should be in another profession. Leave something to the raw talent of the golfer, everything else has been diminished by technology i.e equipment, balls, range finders... pretty soon they’ll want their coach, trainer, and therapist with them to help ensure the correct aspects of each swing!

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Commented on

Why doesn't rule 8.1b dis-allow 3rd party greens guides? They are in essence asking the 3rd party for advice..

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Commented on

Seriously? It is not advice, it is knowledge. If you can use GPS for yardage, why can't a golfer use a greens book for the break. All tools should be allowed for use, as long as it's expeditious.

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Is it fair to use a golf greens guide for putting?