Rules of Golf: The Flagstick

The first rule of golf (Rule 1-1) tells us that the hole is our ultimate target. Since the flagstick marks the position of the hole, it is given special treatment under the Rules.

In fact, it even has its own Rule to deal with the specific situations in which the flagstick can affect the playing of the game (Rule 17).

Rule 17-1 advises the player how the flagstick may be handled before and during the stroke. 

Before The Stroke

  • The flagstick may be attended, removed or held up to indicate the position of the hole.
  • This applies from anywhere on the course. For example, a player can have the flagstick attended for a chip-shot.
  • The flagstick can be attended by anyone, but only with the player’s permission or knowledge before he or she plays. A person attending the flagstick with the player’s knowledge is deemed to have his or her permission unless the player objects.
  • If the flagstick is in the hole and anyone stands near it while a stroke is being made, he or she is deemed to be attending the flagstick. A person standing close enough to touch the flagstick is considered to be standing “near the hole” (Decision 17-1/1).
  • The person attending the flagstick may stand directly behind the hole, rather than to the side of it (Decision 17-1/4).
  • A player may hold the flagstick with one hand and putt with the other hand, provided the flagstick has been removed from the hole so that the ball does not strike it (Decision 17-1/5).

During The Stroke

Anyone who was not attending or holding up the flagstick with the player’s knowledge prior to the stroke is prohibited from attending, holding up, or removing the flagstick during the player’s stroke or while the ball is in motion, if doing so might influence the movement of the ball (Rule 17-2).

If an opponent or fellow-competitor does so, the opponent or fellow-competitor loses the hole in match play or incurs a penalty of two strokes in stroke play.

In Rule 17-3 we are told that if the flagstick is being attended, removed or held up, the player making the stroke is penalised loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play if the ball strikes the flagstick or the person attending, removing or holding it up.

In stroke play, the ball is played as it lies. Note that the penalty applies even if the stroke is made from off the green.

If the stroke is made from on the putting green, the player incurs the same penalty if the ball strikes an unattended flagstick in the hole.

Rule 17-4 deals with the special case when the ball is resting against the flagstick in the hole but the ball is not yet holed (be aware that a ball is not holed until all of it is below the level of the lip of the hole (see Definition of “holed”).

You may move or remove the flagstick, and if the ball falls into the hole, you are deemed to have holed out with your last stroke. However, if the ball doesn’t fall into the hole, there is no penalty, but you must place the ball on the lip of the hole.

What can you do if the flagstick is in the hole but is leaning toward you, away from you or to the side? You are entitled to have the flagstick left as it is or have it centred in the hole.

However, you may not have it adjusted to a more favourable position than centred. However, if someone else centres the flagstick without your permission, you may have it restored to its original position (Decision 17/4).

What if the ball strikes the hole-liner that is attached to an attended flagstick?

This sometimes happens when the flagstick is jammed into the hole and the hole-liner is pulled up when the attendant lifts the flagstick.

According to Decision 17/8, there is no penalty.

The hole-liner is considered an outside agency. If the stroke was played from the putting green, the player must cancel and replay the stroke if the liner was moving when the ball struck it (Rule 19-1b).

If the liner was not moving when the ball struck it, the ball must be played it as it lies (Rule 19-1).

In case of doubt, the ball must be played as it lies. It is always wise to check the flagstick before the player putts to make sure it isn’t stuck.

Some flagstick attendants lift the flagstick a few centimetres from the bottom of the hole-liner to prevent this from happening.