Rule 17, and the Decisions arising from it, deals with most aspects concerning the flagstick. I recommend that all golfers read this Rule for themselves, but in this blog I am going to highlight the most salient points;
- The first one is one that in my experience surprises many players. The flagstick may be attended, removed or held up before making a stroke from anywhere on the course. But I recommend that you don’t ask for it to be attended if you are playing to a putting green that is 150 yards away, as you may soon run out of people to play with! (Rule 17-1).
- If a competitor sees that a ball is going to hit a flagstick that has been removed, typically when it is lying on the putting green beside the hole, they may move it to avoid the ball striking it, without incurring a penalty (Decision 17-1/7). Before 1st January 2008 such an action incurred a penalty of one stroke.
- If an unattended flagstick is still in the hole when a player makes a stroke, no-one may remove it while a ball is in motion if doing so might influence the movement of the ball (Rule 17-2). Breach of this Rule incurs the general penalty**.
- Here’s one that not many people know. Anyone standing close to the flagstick (i.e. within reach of it) is deemed to be attending it, even if the player making the stroke has not authorised them to do so. So, when playing a stroke be very careful and ask anyone standing close to the flagstick to move away, or you could incur the general penalty** if your ball strikes it, even though you may have been playing from off the green (Decision 17-1/1).
- There is nothing in the Rules stipulating where a player must stand when attending the flagstick (Decision 17-1/4).
- A player may hold the flagstick with one hand and tap their ball into the hole with the other. But they should make sure that they remove the flagstick so that their ball does not strike it and may not use it for assistance. Decision 17-1/5.
- If a ball strikes the flagstick, while it is being attended, the player making the stroke incurs a general penalty** (Rule 17-3). This may seem unfair as it could be due to the carelessness of the person attending the flagstick for you, but that is the Rule. However, if a fellow competitor, or opponent, purposely allows a ball to hit the flagstick, so that the player will incur a penalty, then they are disqualified under Rule 1-2 for influencing the movement of the ball.
- If your ball is on the putting green you should always ask for the flagstick to be attended, because if your ball hits the flagstick you incur the general penalty** (Rule 17-3).
- The flag is part of the flagstick and the same rulings apply if a ball hits the flag (Decision 17-3/5).
- Be extremely careful if your ball comes to rest against the flagstick. Rule 17-4 states that when you remove the flagstick, the ball must fall into the hole. If a player picks up their ball before it has completely dropped below the level of the lip of the hole they incur a penalty of one stroke, under Rule 18-2, and must place it back on the lip of the hole.
- When a player is making a stroke they may leave the flagstick positioned as it is or centre it in the hole, but they may not adjust it to a more favourable position than centred (Decision 17/4).
**The general penalty in stroke play is two strokes and in match play is loss of hole.