Are Golf Ball Pick-Ups for Your Putter 'Legal' Under the Rules?

putter suction cup for picking up golf balls

You might know a golfer — you might even be a golfer — who uses a putter that has a suction cup or other golf ball retrieval device affixed to the top of the grip. Maybe you've wondered whether the rules of golf allow such putters: When a golfer adds that ball retrieval gadget, such as a suction cup, is the putter still conforming according to the rules?

The short answer is yes. The rules of golf do allow this specific addition to a putter shaft to be used. In theory, a golfer on a pro tour could attach a suction cup to the end of his or her putter and start picking golf balls up out of the holes that way (assuming the tour didn't have its own condition of competition banning them).

We'll get into the specific rulings on these putter add-ons below.

Who Uses a Ball Retrieval Add-On for the Putter?

But first, let's talk more about the specific gadgets we're discussing, and why some golfers use them.

Sometimes they are literal suction cups; in other cases, a different design is used but it's always something capable of grabbing hold of or grasping onto a golf ball that is in the cup.

Different golfers (and makers) have different ways of referring to them. Many just call them suction cups, others say golf ball pick-ups, or ball grabbers, or golf ball retriever for the putter. "Putter sucker" is another term we've seen used, but, thankfully, rarely.

In all cases, they are small items that fit into or over the top of the grip on your putter shaft. Then, anytime you need to pick up a golf ball, you can flip the putter over (holding it by the head) and grab the golf ball using the pick-up end of your putter.

You can find them for sale in any pro shop; you can find multiple types of putter suction cups for under $10 on Amazon.

Many young, healthy golfers might turn up their noses at such a thing. But there are plenty of golfers with very legitimate reasons for liking and using a suction cup or golf ball pick-up.

A golfer with back problems, for example, or knee problems — any golfer who finds it painful or difficult to bend over and use his or her hand to pick up the golf ball.

The Specific Rulings That Say Putters With Suctions Cups are Conforming

The rules of golf generally frown on adding things, external add-ons, to your golf clubs. One exception is lead tape. Another is a suction cup that goes on the end of your putter grip and helps you pick up the golf ball.

In the Equipment Rules (which you can access on USGA.org or on RandA.org), there is a specific carve-out for golf ball pick-up add-ons to the putter. Even if your putter has one, your putter is still conforming under the rules (assuming it was conforming to begin with, of course).

The governing bodies say so in the Interpretations to Equipment Rule Part 2, Section 1. In the Interpretation designated 1.a(5), which covers external attachments, the USGA and R&A include ball retrievers as an example of an external device that "could be permitted:"

Temporary, non-permanent attachments to the butt end of the grip such as tee pegs, ball markers or ball retrieving devices, provided:
  • such items do not cause the grip to be considered moulded for the hands or create a bulge or waist in the grip; and
  • the outer diameter of the item is less than or equal to the outer diameter of the butt end of the grip and the item does not extend beyond the butt end of the grip by more than 2 inches (50.8mm).

A little farther down in the text, the governing bodies again make it clear:

The two long-standing permissible “external attachments” are (a) the permission to use lead tape on the shaft or the head for weighting, and (b) the use of a suction cup at the end of the grip of a putter to assist with retrieving the ball from the hole. While lead tape can affect the performance of the club and a rubber suction cup would exceed the diameter of the butt end of the grip, the use of both of these items continue to be permitted on a traditional basis.

So if you are using a suction cup or other golf ball pick-up gadget on the end of your putter shaft, don't let your buddies give you any grief: It is perfectly "legal" to do so, and your putter is still conforming.

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