Rules of Golf The flagstick – Rule 17

The thing on the green at the far end of every hole – the flagstick – may merely fulfil the role of visual aid from distance, but once you get closer to it, the various technicalities in Rule 17 over what you can and can’t do with it make up almost two pages of the Rule book.

Most golfers know that you can’t putt from on the green with the flagstick in the hole… well, you can, as long as your ball doesn’t strike it!

If it does, you lose the hole in match play, or incur a two-stroke penalty and have to play the ball as it lies in stroke play. If it ends up in the hole, you must add two strokes to your score.

Putt from on the green with the flagstick in and you’ll be penalised if your ball strikes it. Photo: Kenny Smith

Contrary to what many believe, you may have the flagstick attended before playing from anywhere on the course. While you may look a little silly should you request it to be attended from full-shot distance, it’s something to consider when chipping, perhaps if the wind is blowing the flagstick towards you.

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If you choose not to have the flagstick attended, removed or held up before you play, you may not then subsequently request someone to step in and do so once the ball is on its way if such an action might influence the movement of the ball. So make your mind up before you play.

As to what constitutes attending the flagstick, if it is in the hole and anyone stands near it (arm’s length) while a stroke is being made, they are deemed to be attending the flagstick, regardless of whether or not you have asked them to. So make your wishes clear to your playing companions before you make the stroke.

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That said, Rule 17-2 goes further on unauthorised attendance. If your opponent or his caddie in match play or a fellow-competitor or his caddie in stroke play, without your authority or prior knowledge, attends, removes or holds up the flagstick during the stroke or while the ball is in motion, and the act might influence the movement of the ball, it is the opponent or fellow-competitor who incurs the applicable penalty rather than you.

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The penalty for any breach of Rule 17’s various clauses is always loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play. In addition, if a breach of Rule 17-2 (unauthorised attendance) occurs when the stroke was made on the putting green, that stroke is cancelled and the ball must be replaced and replayed.

Take care over where you leave the flagstick on the green to avoid a potential penalty. Photo: Kenny Smith

Rule 17-3 also makes it clear that if your ball strikes the removed flagstick perhaps carelessly placed on the green, you will incur the applicable penalty for ball striking the flagstick, regardless of who put it there. So if you’re even vaguely concerned about where it has been left, move it!

Finally, if you get to the green and find your ball resting against the flagstick, but not yet technically holed, Rule 17-4 tells you how to proceed.

You, or anyone authorised by you, may move or remove the flagstick (carefully!), and if the ball falls into the hole, you are deemed to have holed out with your last stroke; otherwise, the ball, if moved, must be placed on the lip of the hole, without penalty.