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how to read golf greens

How to read golf greens

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How to read golf greens

Green reading is much more difficult than most people think. It is more like an under-appreciated art. With all the free resources at our disposal these days; caddies, books, green, etc., it can be easy to take your golf game to the next level and become a great putter.

But what happens if you can’t read greens effectively? What happens is, you’ll never improve your putting skills to an elite level.

Moreover, the thin line between a good score and an outstanding one could lie in your putting ability.

The problem with green reading is that few golfers appreciate what it takes to be a good green reader. And most people will eyeball their putt only for a few seconds, step up, putt, and move on.

This is luck most of the time and will not produce consistent putting results. Sometimes, it yields the right result, though this inexact process won’t produce more holed putts.

You’ll only be doing yourself a disservice if you take this route. Most golfers will need to get insight from each angle of the hole, getting as close to the ground as possible. Doing this allows your eyes to be on the same plane as the ball is rolling, allowing you to read the greens with more precision. 

One vital way to improve your green-reading ability is to gather as much information as possible while waiting your turn to hit. You can do this in a few different ways:

-Studying how the other balls are rolling on the green (speed, angles, grain, etc.)

-Reading your putt from all sides, not just from behind the ball

-Read the grain to see which way the grass will pull the ball

The Art of Reading Greens – The Unwritten Rules

The art of reading the green is essential to putting successfully. This section will break down all you need to know about reading the golf greens. To understand how to read the greens, you need to, first and foremost, realize that there’s absolutely nothing better than grasping the concept of putting perfectly as a golfer.

You know what I am referencing if you have had that round where you feel you can’t miss your putting.

Of course, a well-struck mid-iron or hitting a driver down the path of a center stripe all sound interesting, but none is comparable to the feeling you get when you’re in “that zone.”

Professional golfers around the world believe it is needed to break par. So, why won’t you want to learn more about it?

One’s true ability to read golf green successfully is one of the main factors in successful putting. It’s all about taking advantage of the green slopes despite how inclined they are in any direction. For instance, reading the greens properly will help you make more birdies and eliminate the 3-putt.

Making Putts

There are two keys to making putts: Line and Speed.

Within 20 feet, the line is crucial because you have an increased chance of making the putt with one stroke. Anything beyond the 20 feet mark would require more calculation and, therefore, is normally a low percentage chance you will make it.

Speed is the most important thing in putting because you want the golf ball within the distance, and even if you miss the line, you’ll have an easy two-putt to help make up for it.

Assess the putting surface

The ability to observe your surroundings as a golfer is what will give you that needed oomph. So, let’s assume you hit the perfect approach shot, awesome!

After hitting the green, you can start by assessing the putting surface as you walk up. You want to approach the green by looking at all angles. Don’t just put your head down and look at your ball.

You will want to look for tiers in the green, large hills, drainage areas, and which way the grain is going.

All these are factors that will contribute to your putt.


As you mark your ball, take a closer look at the hole and stand on the mark with a posture similar to someone ready to putt – do this immediately. What this does is it forms your initial hypothesis on where to putt the ball. You will adjust your line from there. 

You can make use of your feet. As you stand on the marker with a putting stance, observe the balance of pressure rubbing over your feet and the current direction you’re leaning.

Understanding this feeling will tell you the golf ball’s trajectory when you swing. You have to telepathically see how it will roll on the ground when you swing at it.

This is why you should walk about 10 feet behind the golf ball and crouch down in perfect alignment with the ball and the hole. To get a perfect read, study the contour of the green that’s between them.

If you were to pour a bucket of water in the direction of the hole, which way would the water run?

If the ball is on the edge of a steep green, then it’s the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the read because you can get close to the green’s surface with the same height as your eyes while standing.

As you form an initial read for the direction, use a simple system that determines the number of breaks. For example

  • Center Cup
  • The right edge or Left Edge
  • Middle right or Middle Left
  • 1-2 cups outside the Right or Left edge
  • 1 golf balls outside the Right or Left edge

These are all simple systems you can try out to help determine the amount of break.

If the putt has more break than the couple cups, try to pick a target on the green that you can aim at;

  • A blade of grass
  • Color spot in the green
  • Small leaf on the green

Any of these would be ideal in this scenario.

Grass Grain

Paying close attention to the direction in which the grass is growing will also help you become a better putter. The grain of grass generally follows the direction of the mowing pattern or the slope of the green. So, if your putt is against the grain, the subtle friction will slow your ball down, and alternatively, if your putt is in the direction of the grain’s growth, it will be relatively faster.

However, the trick therein is when you aren’t putting with or against the grain, and it’s where break comes in. The ball will break less when going against the grain, and break more when going with the grain.

You can generally get an idea of the way the grain is growing by looking directly at the hole. One side of the hole will typically have less grass; this is the way the grain is growing.


At this stage, you probably have a good idea of the line you’re working with, so it’s time to get the reader for your speed. Putts are in three major trajectories – downhill, uphill, or a combination of both. And if the putt is long enough, getting multiple reads may be your best bet – take these reads from different angles as the putt rises and falls. If this sounds a bit complex, you can use any of these simple systems for determining the speed of the ball:

  • Less than 100%: it’s a downhill putt. To get this, pick a spot before the hole and picture yourself wanting to hit that target. It will let the slope pull your ball further toward the hole.
  • More than 100%: If it’s more than 100%, all you have to do in this case is pick a spot beyond the hole and picture yourself trying to hit the ball in that direction. The slope will stop your ball from rolling to the pictured spot, but it will stop in the hole.
  • 100%: at this mark, it’s a flat putt. Hit it at the right pace – normal enough that it will get the golf ball to the hole.

Green Mapping

When it comes to reading the break of a putt, the more information you have, the more likely you are to read the green successfully – and the more it feels more like cracking a criminal case.

With green mapping, the goal is to chart the specific hole locations for each green and the direction of the break for each pin location. Doing this often includes the direction of the break and the local fall lines. There are steps to follow:

Obtaining the diagram of the green

The first step involves obtaining the diagram of the 18 greens on which you’ll map how your golf ball will break at the different hole spots. We recommend obtaining the original golf course designer drawing. This will show you the shape, size, and the different contour lines of the green.

Not all golf courses will have this. You can always make one from scratch.

Alternatively, you can opt for the diagram of each green from yardage books – these are the official book the course has commissioned to offer the public. So, it’s absolutely legal.

Identifying the putting zones

The next step involves identifying the putting zones. The putting zones in golf changes every day.

Most golf superintendents make use of the standard system. This system balances both the left and right sides of the green coupled with the back, front, and middle. Ultimately, this improves the green’s durability and presents you with a unique challenge every day.

You’ll be given a diagram of the weekly pin rotation to help identify the day’s pin position. The diagram is useful for raised or blind greens when it’s hard to see and read the green.

Identifying locations

The third step of green mapping involves spotting the pin locations – this is where the hole can be cut. If you play regularly at a golf course, you’ll learn, with time, the different pin locations for the green. But note, not every part of the green will be made available for a probable fair location of each pin.

Golf course designers often try to design greens with many possible pin locations, but faster green speeds, over time, have eliminated some pin locations as the slopes are now too steep to allow the ball to stop near the hole.

On tour, the spots where the pins are located are well known. Though, more often than not, the pins are in the same place each year – tucked right behind the bunkers or close to the ridges and hazards.

Detailed mapping of the breaks on the green

A detailed map of the different breaks on the green is the next step to note. For experienced players, a yardage book is an ideal option to try out. It provides you with the needed information of the contours present on the green and the direction of the different breaks. You’ll notice that the direction of the break is relatively consistent in the different zones.

Mark one arrow to specify the degree and the direction of the sleep to keep your map from getting cluttered with many unnecessary directional arrows, especially in the same spot.

Create your pocket guide

The final step is preparing a pocket guide for yourself. This way, you can refer to it on the course before your next putt. The goal is to understand the slope (how severe it is) and how your golf ball will break. Interestingly, most slopes at close pin locations fall between 1 and 3 degrees. If you’re not convinced, you can mark them as steep or use a numerical system. Because of the current green speed, you’ll be in a much better position to analyze the path you’ll take for your putt.

Long Bombs Golf Final Say:

Green reading may not seem like an “exciting” thing to do – after all, you want to swing hard and hit long bombs rather than spend all of your time putting. However, I encourage you to invest your time and energy into it. When mastered, it’s a skill that separates professionals from amateurs.

With it, you can improve your game. And next time you hit the green, take time to practice your green reading. Walking through the entire process will only take a couple of minutes and build your confidence.

And as always, we hope these tips will help you make more putts and read the greens better. Of course, it’s natural for you to view the reads on some courses compared to others. The process often starts as you approach the green and study it.

Remember, stick to each putt as the wrong read coupled with the right stroke is better than the excellent read with an unconfident stroke. So, what do you think?


About the Author


How we got onto 16 with a 5 minute wait at the WM Phoenix Open!

How I got on hole 16 (The Stadium hole) at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with little to no wait!! I also have tips and tricks on what to do once you are inside the gate and inside the stadium hole. Check this out if you ever plan to make a trip out! If you ever have the chance, it is definitely worth the trip.

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