How to Read Putting Greens

by Brian Hill
    Putting success starts with accurately reading the green.

    Putting success starts with accurately reading the green.

    Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images

    Reading a putting green means determining the slope of the green and which way it will cause the ball will turn as it travels toward the hole – called the break of the putt. It also requires determining the speed of the putting surface, or how fast the ball will travel on its path. Golfers also should look at the direction in which the grass is growing, referred to as the grain of the green. Grain also can affect the speed of the putt.

    Step 1

    Start to read the green as you walk up to it from the fairway. This angle gives you a good reading of the green's general slope and the predominant way the ball will break, particularly on longer putts.

    Step 2

    Stand 3 feet behind the ball, crouch down and look back toward the hole. Look carefully at the slope of the surface between your golf ball and the hole, and visualize how the ball is likely to turn as it approaches the hole.

    Step 3

    Reverse this angle and look back at your golf ball from behind the hole. This should confirm the slope you saw from the opposite angle. Take a look around the hole itself to see if it slopes from one edge to the other.

    Step 4

    Stand to the side of your target line to get a third view. The instruction book "Private Lessons" recommends that on sidehill putts you stand on the low side of the target line between the ball and the hole to analyze the break.

    Step 5

    Make allowances for playing on bent grass or Bermuda grass greens. Bermuda grass has thicker blades and the grain or direction in which it grows can have a greater effect on the speed of the putt than the finer-grained bent grass does. Bent-grass greens can be faster than Bermuda. With both types of grass, if the green is shiny, the grain is with you, which speeds up the putt. Dull-looking grass means the grain is against you, which slows down the putt. If the grain runs across the line of your putt, termed a cross-grain putt, the ball may drift toward the down-grain side as it slows down.

    Step 6

    Consider local factors that affect the speed and break of the putt. In his book "Golf My Way," golf legend Jack Nicklaus reminds golfers to take into consideration that grass on Florida greens grows toward the setting sun; in California, the grass grows toward the ocean. Greens may also grow toward other bodies of water or away from nearby mountains.


    • Strive to read greens quickly so you don't slow up play for others in your group or players behind you.
    • Golf champion Curtis Strange makes sure to perform the exact same sequence of green-reading steps each time. He believes this bolsters his confidence that he will be able to make the putt.
    • Strange also emphasizes that you should trust in the line and speed you've chosen for the putt once you are finished reading the green. Uncertainty regarding these variables can cause you to make a tentative stroke that greatly reduces your chance of making the putt.
    • Greens that sustain heavy play can become bumpy from the ball marks caused when golf balls hit the green. Walk your target line before you take your stance and repair any obvious imperfections in the green. Make sure you carefully repair your ball mark as well – this is an important courtesy to the golfers who follow.


    • Golf Magazine Private Lessons: The Best of the Best Instruction; David Dusek
    • Golf My Way; Jack Nicklaus
    • Win and Win Again!; Curtis Strange

    About the Author

    Brian Hill is the author of four popular business and finance books: "The Making of a Bestseller," "Inside Secrets to Venture Capital," "Attracting Capital from Angels" and his latest book, published in 2013, "The Pocket Small Business Owner's Guide to Business Plans."

    Photo Credits

    • Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images

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