PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

Rules: The Written And Unwritten Etiquette Of The Flagstick

September 20, 2016

Illustration by Brian Cronin

When it comes to the flagstick, there are the written rules you must follow and the unwritten ones you should honor. Here's a refresher course to ensure your time on the greens goes smoothly.

WRITTEN ▶ Striking a removed flagstick or the attended flagstick (including the person tending it) when making a stroke anywhere on the putting green is a penalty (loss of hole in match play; two shots in stroke play, and the ball must be played as it lies). Remember this key thing when you play: If you authorize someone to tend the pin, the responsibility for what happens next is on you. If your attendant doesn't pull the flagstick out in time, or someone in your group or match places it in a spot where your ball still hits it, you get the penalty.

UNWRITTEN ▶ When you're tending the flagstick, hold it at arm's length, and be sure the flag isn't flapping in the breeze. Also, be cognizant of your location: Your body and shadow should be away from the hole, and your feet should be positioned away from where the ball is expected to roll. This includes what is known as the "through line," the expected path the ball might take beyond the hole should the person miss.

WRITTEN ▶ If the attendant removes the flagstick during a putt and the hole liner is pulled out, your putt is considered holed if the ball falls in. But if the hole liner is only partially pulled up and your ball strikes it, you have to proceed in one of two ways: (1) Replay the stroke if the liner was moving when the ball hit it. (2) Play the ball as it lies if the liner wasn't in motion.

UNWRITTEN ▶ Loosen the flagstick a bit before someone putts to make sure it's not jammed into the hole liner. Once the ball is rolling, pull the flag straight up, and make sure you get it—and yourself—sufficiently away from the action.

WRITTEN ▶ If you're lucky enough to have a shot from off the green get wedged between the flagstick and the hole—and not fall below the lip of the cup—be careful how you proceed. If you move the flagstick, or authorize someone else to do it, and the ball comes to rest at the bottom, it's holed. But if it doesn't drop, you must place it on the lip of the hole (no penalty) and tap in.

UNWRITTEN ▶ When you remove the flagstick, place it gently on the ground. Don't just let it drop. It could damage the green and affect the play of others. If you're the first person in your group to putt out, you should be the one to replace the flag. Make sure you center it in the hole, too.

WRITTEN ▶ If the flagstick is on the ground and someone's ball is in danger of hitting it, anyone can move it out of the way so that player can avoid a penalty. This permission was added in 2008.


If a stroke from on the green strikes the flagstick that was placed off the green, does the player still incur a penalty? Yes

Is it possible to hole a putt without it striking a flagstick that was left unattended?
No. If the flagstick is in the hole, it’s impossible for a ball to come to rest in the hole without striking the flagstick.