Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Flagstick - Rule 17


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.

Please let me know if you have any other questions regarding the flagstick.

Good golfing.

Barry Rhodes
rules at barryrhodes dot com
999Q on Twitter

59 comments:

Anonymous said...

Can you tell the origin of Rule 17? Why was it made a rule?

Barry Rhodes said...

I'm not going to speculate as to the reasons behind Rule 17, but I can give you a little history about the changes to it;

The Flagstick:
First mention 1875, but certainly in use before then.

1875 either party may have the flagstick removed when approaching the hole. This stayed in force until 1956.

1882 when a ball is within 20 yds of the hole, the flagstick must be removed (stroke play) - 1899 rules included a one stroke penalty for a breach. No penalty in match play for hitting the flagstick, attended or not.

R&A 1888 when a ball rests against the flagstick, the stick may be removed.

1902 Loss of hole for striking a flagstick that had been removed by player's own side. In stroke play, the flagstick must be removed before playing when ball from within 20 yards, penalty 1 stroke.

1908 Stroke play, rule changed to 2 strokes penalty for hitting the flagstick or a person standing at the hole. 1912 word change to read 'strikes, or is stopped by...'

1933 loss of hole for striking a flagstick removed or held by the player's own side - if held or removed by opponents, then THEY lost the hole. Stroke play rule unchanged.

The 1952 code restated that striking an unattended flagstick from anywhere carried no penalty in match play, or from over 20 yards from the hole in stroke play. Striking the flagstick or the person attending it from within 20 yards carried a 2 stroke penalty.

1956 Rule was rewritten. Now the responsibilities and penalties fell to the player, and match and stroke play were treated the same. Two strokes or loss of hole if the player's ball struck the flagstick or the person attending it. No penalty for striking an unattended flagstick from any distance.

1968 penalty of loss of hole or 2 strokes for hitting an unattended flagstick with stroke from the putting green.

It has always been the case that the flagstick can be removed when a ball is at rest against it and should the ball fall in, it is considered holed.

1960 In adjusting the flagstick, the player may leave it at whatever angle it is found at, or set it upright. He cannot tilt the stick to his advantage (decision, 1956).

Barry Rhodes

john said...

After holing a chip, I waited to retrieve my ball until all were on the green. When I reached the pin, I pulled the flag out and then removed my ball. One of the persons in the group said that I violated a golf rule by not removing my ball prior to removing the flag. Is that true?

Barry Rhodes said...

John,

No, this is a common misconception. A ball is holed when it is at rest within the circumference of the hole and all of it is below the level of the lip of the hole.

However, it is probably good practice to remove the ball by hand in order to avoid any damage to the lip of the hole.

Barry Rhodes

Travis said...

Barry,

In a game last week my foursome was putting on a par 4 and the flagstick was out. One of the players in the foursome we were playing against behind us hit from the tee box into us and hit the flagstick on the green which stopped his ball. They hit an easy eagle putt and ended up winning because of this hole. Is this not a 2 stroke penalty???

Thanks.

Barry Rhodes said...

Travis,

No penalty was incurred. Decision 17-3/3 covers this situation;

"A player, not believing he can reach the green which is occupied by the preceding match or group, plays his second shot at a par-5 hole and the ball rolls onto the green and strikes the flagstick which has been removed from the hole and placed on the ground by someone in the preceding match or group.

A. No penalty is incurred. Rule 17-3a is not applicable. It applies only when the flagstick has been removed with the player's authority or prior knowledge by someone in the player's match or group."

Barry

Anonymous said...

Here's a good one for you: I was playing early this morning while all the grounds crew were busy, and as my ball lay on the fringe a groundskeeper cut a new hole in the green - a few feet closer to my ball than previously - and placed the flagstick in it. How do I proceed in this unusual situation? Don't know if it's covered anywhere in the Rules.

Mike

Barry Rhodes said...

Mike,

I suspect that you were playing a casual round of golf when this happened, in which case I suggest that the player should be permitted to continue play of the hole and accept his good luck. It is a different matter if it was during play of a stroke play competition Part of the answer to Decision 33-2b/1 confirms that when a hole is relocated during a round in stroke play;

"If this was authorized by the Committee, the round should be declared null and void. In stroke play, the Committee is prohibited from relocating a hole and from moving tee-markers except as provided in the Exception and Note to Rule 33-2b or in circumstances such as those in Decisions 25-1b/4 or 33-2b/1.5.

If this was done without the authority or sanction of the Committee, generally the round should be declared null and void. However, if the course has not been altered significantly and no competitor has been given an undue advantage or disadvantage, the Committee would be justified in letting the round stand."


Barry

Mom said...

Please tell me the rule re: moving the flagstick which is lying on the putting green, as a putted ball is heading towards it. Also,
what if a ball is behind the hole and someone marks it while the other player's putt is in motion. Thank you for clearing this up.

Barry Rhodes said...

Mom,

Since January 2008, players are permitted to move a flagstick that is attended, removed or held up if they think that a ball in motion might strike it (Rule 24-1).

However, a player is not permitted to move a ball in the circumstances that you describe in the second part of your question, (Rule 1-2); the penalty is two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.

Regards,

Barry

farina123 said...

Player has the flagstick removed and putts from the putting surface and the ball rolls off the green. Can he have the Flagstick replaced in the hole for the next shot.

Barry Rhodes said...

Farina,

Yes, in the circumstances that you describe the player may replace the flagstick in the hole, leave it out or have it attended.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Interesting case. What happens when after the putt has been made the attendant in the course of removing the flag accidnetally pulls the cup out of the ground? How does this stroke count if the ball strikes the partially removed cup?

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

This situation is covered by Decision 17/8;
Q. A player played a stroke from the putting green. The ball struck the hole-liner, which had stuck to the bottom of the flagstick and had come out of the hole when the person attending the flagstick removed the flagstick. Is there any penalty?

A. No. A hole-liner is an outside agency. Accordingly, if the hole-liner was moving when the ball struck it, the stroke is canceled and the ball must be replaced — Rule 19-1b. If the hole-liner was not moving, the ball must be played as it lies — Rule 19-1. In case of doubt, the ball must be played as it lies.


Barry

Anonymous said...

Barry, can I ask, if the flagstick is removed as instructed by my playing partner and placed off the green and my partners putt has ran past the hole and off the green and hits the flag as it lay on the ground. What is the ruling?? I understand if it's on the playing surface he would incur a 2 stroke penalty however I'm unsure of the ruling if the flagstick was struck off the green. Many thanks mike

Barry Rhodes said...

Mike,

Rule 17-3 confirms that when a player has authorised the flagstick to be attended, removed or held up there is a penalty if their ball hits it, wherever it is placed.

Barry

Cody said...

Say you are about 100 yards out and your ball knocks against the flag stick before it ever touches the ground, does that count as a make?

Barry Rhodes said...

Cody,

If a ball played from off the green strikes the flagstick on the fly and drops in the hole it is holed and there is no penalty. If the ball hits the flagstick on the fly and comes to rest nearby, there is no penalty and it must be played from where it comes to rest.

Barry

Graham said...

There was a time, I think in the 1950's or early 60's, when one could putt on the green with the flagstick left in and unattended. Are you aware of the date when this was changed? Hope you can help and thanks.
Regards
Graham

Barry Rhodes said...

Graham,

Yes, you are correct. In January 1950 this was Rule 38-3;
3. Stroke play
(i) Striking flagstick
A competitor incurs no penalty if, playing from farther than twenty yards from the hole, his ball strike the flagstick which is not held or has not been removed. If the flagstick is attended, or has been removed, at the player’s request, and his ball strike it, he shall incur the penalty of one stroke and shall play his ball as it lies.

I have not checked as to when this Rule changed but you can do so yourself by following this useful link;
http://www.ruleshistory.com/

Barry

Anonymous said...

Does the flagstick need to remain in or attended while the ball/shot is off the green? Or can the flag be removed for any shot location?

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

This is the very first point that I made above;
"The flagstick may be attended, removed or held up before making a stroke from anywhere on the course."

Barry

Anonymous said...

Dear Barry, recently in a stroke-play competition a friend putted into the hole with the flagstick still in, the putt was from only 3 inches away from the hole. He didn't lift the flagstick and then didn't call a two shot penalty on himself. When queried after he said his ball didn't hit the flagstick as it went into the hole so it wasn't a penalty. Is there a definitive rule about putting into the hole with the flag in when you're on the green?
Many thanks, Graham, Dublin, Ireland.

Barry Rhodes said...

Graham,

Your friend did incur a penalty of two strokes under Rule 17-3 for his ball striking the flagstick after putting from the putting green. Decision 17-3/1 confirms;

Q. A player plays a stroke from the putting green without having the flagstick attended. The ball stops momentarily on the lip of the hole and then falls into the hole. The player claims that the ball fell into the hole without striking the flagstick and therefore he incurs no penalty under Rule 17-3. Is the claim valid?

A. No. A ball is not holed until it is at rest in the hole — Definition of "Holed." If the flagstick is in the hole, it is impossible for a ball to come to rest in the hole without striking the flagstick.


Barry (also Dublin, Ireland)

Buzz (JHB, South Africa) said...

I putted my ball towards the hole with flagstick being attended by an opponent during 4BBB Stableford competition. My ball hit the flagstick while the opponent was holding it in the hole. He claims ignorance about what he was supposed to do and thought he was doing me a favour by holding the flagstick in the hole. Pls help with a ruling.

Barry Rhodes said...

In these unfortunate circumstances you are penalised two strokes. See the bolded answer section of this Decision 17-3/2;

Q.A's ball lies on the putting green. A requests B, his opponent or fellow-competitor, to attend the flagstick, and B complies. A putts and B fails to remove the flagstick. A's ball strikes the flagstick. What is the ruling?

A.If B failed to remove the flagstick for the purpose of causing A to incur a penalty, B is disqualified, in both match play and stroke play, under Rule 33-7 for taking an action contrary to the spirit of the game. In stroke play, in equity (Rule 1-4), A must replay the stroke without penalty.

If B's failure to remove the flagstick was with the intent to influence the movement of A's ball (e.g., for the purpose of preventing A's ball from going beyond the flagstick), B is in breach of Rule 1-2, and loses the hole in match play or incurs a two-stroke penalty in stroke play, whether the ball strikes the flagstick or not. In stroke play, if the ball struck the flagstick and as a result A suffered significant advantage or disadvantage, then the Committee could consider B to have committed a serious breach of Rule 1-2, the penalty for which is disqualification. Whether or not B has committed a serious breach of Rule 1-2, in stroke play, if A's ball struck the flagstick, in equity (Rule 1-4), A must replay the stroke without penalty - see Note 2 to Rule 1-2.

If B's failure to remove the flagstick was not deliberate (e.g., the flagstick stuck in the hole-liner or B was distracted and did not see A putt), since B was acting on A's behalf, A incurs a penalty of loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play under Rule 17-3. A must play the ball as it lies. B incurs no penalty. (Revised)


Barry

Buzz (JHB, South Africa) said...

Thanks for your speedy reply Barry! My opponent had no malicious intent, in fact, he thought he might be doing me a favour. He acted deliberately out of ignorance of the rules. I just felt that I should not be penalised because of my opponent's ignorance. If it was my partner or caddie, on the other hand, then I would have to swallow the bitter pill. Any final thoughts? Tx. Buzz

Barry Rhodes said...

Buzz,

The penalty still stands. Once you have authorised the player to attend the flagstick, even if it is only implied by him standing close enough to touch it, you are responsible if your ball hits it. So, always make sure that the player concerned understand that they have to remove it and is paying attention to your stroke.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Barry--
If you are 100 yards away from the hole and your ball bounces
on the green and then hits the flagstick, but doesn't go
in the hole is there any
stroke penalty incurred?

Thanks

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

There is no penalty incurred in the circumstances that you describe. Under Rule 17-3 there is a penalty when the player's ball strikes the flagstick in the hole after they have made a stroke from on the putting green.

Barry

Dan Vesper said...

Barry,

What if someone holes out from off the green and when they get to the hole...instead of bending over and picking the ball out of the hole with their hand they yank the flagstick out quickly causing the ball to jump up and out of the hole. Is there a penalty for that?

Thanks!
Dan Vesper

Barry Rhodes said...

Dan,

If the ball was at rest within the circumference of the hole and all of it is below the level of the lip of the hole then it was holed. There is no penalty for removing the ball from the hole with the flagstick, but this is a bad practice that should always be discouraged. If all of the ball was not below the level of the lip of the hole when it was removed with the flagstick then the ball was not holed and the player incurs a penalty stroke under Rule 20-1 for lifting their ball without marking its position. The player must then replace the ball against the flagstick and let it drop into the hole as they remove the flagstick, otherwise the hole has not been completed.

Regards,

Barry

Anonymous said...

In a stableford comp recently a player putted on the green with the flagstick in, the ball did not reach the hole was a penalty incurred. No one seemed to know what the exact ruling was. thanks Ruth

Barry Rhodes said...

Ruth,

There is no penalty for leaving the flagstick in the hole while putting, but if the ball should hit the flagstick the player incurs a penalty of two strokes in stroke play.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Hi Barry,

Great Site, had a interesting one yesterday, ball on green 6 inches from hole, I was removing the flag and dropped it in high wind hitting my ball and moving it 2 inches further from the hole - is there a clear ruling on this ?

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

You incurred a penalty of one stroke for causing your ball to move with the flagstick (Rule 18-2a) and the ball should have been replaced. If the ball was not replaced, but played from where you moved it to, the penalty increased to two strokes for playing from the wrong place (Rule 20-7).

Barry

Anonymous said...

Further on Ruth's Question:

Was there a time when a player, without penalty, could make a putt (from the green) with the flagstick in the hole?

I had heard somewhere that the rules on this differed between America and Europe.

My understanding was that this was allowed in Europe, but not in America.

Thanks, Wayne

Barry Rhodes said...

Wayne,

I find it consuming enough to remember the Rules as they are now, without spending time on if and when they changed. However, I can recommend you to the Historical Rules of Golf web site, where you will be able to research the answer to your question by using "flagstick" as the search term; http://www.ruleshistory.com

Barry

Bob said...

True story... A friend hit an approach shot to a green which lodged in the back of the hole, above the liner, almost(!) completely below the surface of the green. The hole was slightly deformed. When he pulled the pin the ball remained lodged, did not fall. An official ruled the ball not holed and gave him birdie (eagle would have won $1000 skin!). But he never struck the birdie shot and I wonder how he would have... he's entitled to lift/clean/place which was impossible without the ball falling into the hole. Does he have to place it BACK a half-inch so it sits on the lip? I asked why not pull the pin clumsily enough to bump the ball loose but we wouldn't expect a friendly ruling for that either.

Barry Rhodes said...

Bob,

Decision 16/3 rules on this situation, which is not as uncommon as you might think;

Q. A player's ball embeds in the side of a hole. Part of the ball is above the level of the lip of the hole. What is the ruling?

A. The ball is not holed - see Definition of "Holed." The player may play the ball as it lies or lift the ball under Rule 16-1b, repair the damage under Rule 16-1c and place the ball on the lip of the hole.


Barry

Bob said...

Laugh, good thing for option 2... how would you 'play it as it lies' within the rules for a legal putting stroke?!

Anonymous said...

hi Barry, player A hits ball from off green towards hole and it lodges between flagstick and lip only partially in, player B walks several feet up to flag and jiggles it so ball falls into hole completely. Player B was not attending the flag and player A did not request he move the flag. What is ruling please? thanks Mick

Barry Rhodes said...

Mick,

Although Rule 17-4 states that the player or another person authorised by him may move or remove the flagstick, to let the ball fall into the hole, in stroke play there is no penalty for a player moving the ball of a fellow competitor, but the ball has to be replaced. In the circumstances that you describe the player whose ball it was could insist on the ball being replaced against the flagstick, so that they could carefully remove the flagstick to hole out, but as the ball had been holed anyway it would be more sensible for them to consider that the fellow competitor was authorised to jiggle the flagstick to achieve this.

Barry

Albatross said...

Re question of ball putted and rolls off the green. You indicated that for the next stroke from off the green, the flag stick can be removed or attended. My assertion (question) is that it would be a penalty to strike the flag stick if it were left in (because you have already putted once), do you agree?

Barry Rhodes said...

Albatross,

No I do not agree. There is no Rule or Decision that supports your assertion. A player making a stroke from anywhere off the putting green does not incur a penalty if their ball hits an unattended flagstick, under any circumstances.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Hi Barry,
If you ask somebody to attend to the flagstick while you hit from off the green, what is the ruling if you hit him and the ball comes to rest on him?

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

You incur a penalty of two strokes, the same as if your ball had hit the flagstick, Rule 17-3b.

Barry

itsallgood nz said...

Hi, great blog! Question: It is permissible to hold the flagstick in one hand & put with the other. But I believe that in doing this one can't ground the flagstick while making the put because it is deemed to be anchoring/stabilizing oneself whilst making a stroke. 2 stroke penalty. Is this correct? Cheers!

Barry Rhodes said...

Itsallgood,

Yes, you may hold the flagstick in one hand and putt with the other, providing the ball does not hit the flagstick and the end does not touch the line of putt, Decision 17-1/5. Yo may ground the flagstick outside the line of putt, but may not use it to steady yourself.

Barry

mumtaz said...

Dear Barry, Yesterday I asked my caddie to attend the flag while standing left of the hole so that I could aim at his foot and cater for slope. One of the players objected. is he right and what is the penalty. Mumtaz

Barry Rhodes said...

Mumtaz,

Your fellow competitor was correct, the action that you describe was a breach of Rule 8-2b. Decision 8-2b/2 confirms.

Barry

Barry Rhodes said...

Mumtaz,

Your fellow competitor was correct, the action that you describe was a breach of Rule 8-2b. Decision 8-2b/2 confirms.

Barry

Anonymous said...

In match play, my opponent was on the green. I placed my wedges off the green nowhere near where anyone would think they would be in play. I removed the flag for her and stepped back off the green. Her putt rolled past the hole and off the green at a crazy angle, which would have hit my clubs. I removed them while the ball was in motion so as not to deflect her ball. Should I have been penalized?

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

You did not incur a penalty in the circumstances that you describe. The exception in Rule 24-1 is relevant;

When a ball is in motion, an obstruction that might influence the movement of the ball, other than equipment of any player or the flagstick when attended, removed or held up, must not be moved.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Hi Barry,

I have a question for you regarding the flagstick. A ball comes to rest on a double green which serves as the 9th hole and 18th hole and not divided by the Committee. The player putts toward the 9th hole and while the ball is in motion, it hits the unattended flagstick of the 18th hole. Would the player incur a two stroke penalty in breach of 17-3c?

Rico

Barry Rhodes said...

Rico,

Yes, I am sure that a penalty is incurred in these circumstances. The only reference to double putting greens in the Decisions book is Decision 25-3/1 which confirms that in the absence of a Local, Rule 25-3, Wrong Putting Green, does not apply. Therefore, I deduce that any breaches of Rules relating to putting greens do apply, notwithstanding which of the two holes is being played.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Barry,
Great info! My 14 year old daughter has been playing for about 1 1/2 years. We are quickly learning the rules...my question is during a tournament recently, her opponent was putting from the fringe. My daughter tended the flag. Her opponent did not say yes or no. When the ball was 3 or 4 feet from the hole she removed the flag. The ball hit the edge of the cup and rolled away from the hole. Her mother insisted she be allowed to re-putt. Same result, a 2 putt. After the tournament the mother approached the director and insisted she be given back a stroke because had my daughter not tended, it would have went in. Her opponent was given the stroke, my daughter was not penalized. What should have happened?

Barry Rhodes said...

Anonymous,

Oh dear, the Tournament Director made a terrible ruling! As your daughter was standing within touching distance of the flagstick she was deemed to be attending it with the authorisation of the player putting from off the putting green, Note 1 to Rule 17-1. So, when the player made their stroke your daughter had to remove the flagstick, because if the ball had hit the flagstick the player making the putt would have incurred a penalty of two strokes, Rule 17-3a.

As the Rules did not permit the player to take the putt again she incurred a penalty of two strokes, for playing from the wrong place , Rule 20-7, in addition to the stroke for the original putt and the two strokes that she then took to hole out.

Feel free to email me directly with any questions that you have at rules at barry rhodes dot com.

Barry

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your help! As I stated, we are learning the rules and want to make sure we get it right!
Lori