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Golf’s New Rules: The Flagstick



Under the new Rules of Golf, there will be no penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits a flagstick left in the hole.

Ball Played from Green Hits Unattended Flagstick in Hole:

2019 Rule: Under Rule 13.2a(2):

  • There will no longer be a penalty if a ball played from the putting green hits a flagstick left in the hole.
  • Players will not be required to putt with the flagstick in the hole; rather, they will continue to have the choice to have it removed (which includes having someone attend the flagstick and remove it after the ball is played).

Current Rule: Under Rule 17-3, if a player makes a stroke on the putting green and the ball then hits the unattended flagstick that was left in the hole, the player gets the general penalty.

Reasons for change:

  • Allowing a player to putt with the flagstick in the hole without fear of penalty should generally help speed up play:
    • For example, if a putt is long enough that the player cannot easily see the hole unless the flagstick is left in, the player currently needs to wait for another person to attend the flagstick even if it is the player’s turn to play or (in stroke play) if the player is ready to play and it would save time to go ahead and do so.
    • This change could also speed up play for short tap-ins, as the player could simply putt the ball into the hole without first removing and then replacing the flagstick.
  • When the players do not have caddies, the current Rule can result in considerable delay, such as:
    • When the opponent (or the other player in stroke play) is raking a greenside bunker and will be delayed for a minute or two before coming on to the green.
    • When other players in stroke play are delayed in coming on to the green for other reasons, such as a ball search, indecision about what club to use or shot to play, etc.
    • When all players in the group have long putts and so will need to walk back and forth to the hole to attend the flagstick for one another (which sometimes produces uncertainty about who will or should attend for someone else).
  • In match play, a player without a caddie will now be able to choose to putt with the unattended flagstick in the hole rather than ask the opponent to attend the flagstick, reducing the potential for dispute that can arise when the opponent attends for the player (such as when the opponent fails to remove the flagstick and the ball hits it).
  • On balance it is expected that there should be no advantage in being able to putt with the unattended flagstick in the hole:
    • In some cases, the ball may strike the flagstick and bounce out of the hole when it might otherwise have been holed, and
    • In other cases, the ball may hit the flagstick and finish in the hole when it might otherwise have missed.

For more information on the new Rules of Golf, visit usga.org/rules.


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