It’s nearly five years since rule changes allowed us to leave the flag in the hole. But are we any clearer with what we’re doing? Our club golf editor tackles this etiquette issue
It was Covid that tipped the scales for me. We came back after lockdown and the powers that be were terrified you’d be struck down if you left as much as fingerprint on it.
Ever since we were barred from touching the golf flagstick, I’ve been unable to focus on sinking a putt without it remaining in the hole.
In January, it will be five years since the Rules of Golf changes allowed us to putt on the green, leave the flag in the hole, and not be penalised if a ball in motion struck it.
We’ve had scientific analysis on whether a putt is more likely to be holed if it hits the flag or not – the jury might still be out on that one – and we’ve had concerns about damage to the hole from players reaching in to pull it out.
But there are some high-profile proponents of leaving it where it is. Matt Fitzpatrick has won a US Open, and God knows how many other trophies, while never removing the flagstick.
So is it in or out for you? Adding to the debate, I produced this (entirely unscientific) quick poll on X to find out what some of you were up to on the golf course.
The results were not surprising…
Let's have a quick lunchtime poll…
Do you leave the flag in the hole when putting? ⛳️🕳️
— Steve Carroll (@SteveCarrollNCG) October 12, 2023
Yes, we’re officially all over the place but, overall, it appears more of you like an unobstructed view when you’re lining up a putt.
Maybe you don’t like it flapping about, maybe a shadow puts you off, maybe you’ll keep it in only if you’d otherwise need some binoculars to see the hole.
Me? The stick helps with aiming. I’m confident, after much trial and error, that I can hit it at a pace that encourages the ball to drop if it strikes it and it gives me an added sense of security if I’ve got a tricky downhiller.
Each to their own, of course.
But as someone who religiously keeps the flagstick in, and for those that do, let me give you a couple of quick etiquette tips if you want to avoid ruining everyone else’s day on the course.
Golf flagstick etiquette rules
There is nothing worse than a group doing the flagstick hokey-cokey. It wastes time. People are hanging around. Pace of play gets tricky: ‘After you, no after you.’ And it’s easy to find someone to blame if you miss a tiddler. ‘It put me off my rhythm’.
As I’m the one who usually keeps the flagstick in, and can be the odd one out in a group, I’m usually taking charge on the greens. I’ll often hole out first – as long as I’m not stepping in anyone’s line – and then everyone else can do their thing.
It’s much better than taking it out, and putting it back in, however many times until we’ve all finally found the bottom of the cup.
Be responsible for the flagstick
This could be a whole etiquette debate on its own but if you’re done first, be the one that takes care of the golf flagstick.
That means getting it out of the way for the rest of the group and then replacing it when everyone is done.
In my eyes, there isn’t much worse in the etiquette stakes than someone standing idly around and then expecting another player to run after wherever the flag is lying and stick it back in the hole once they’ve putted.
Be careful with the hole
Finally, the one that will get you brownie points with the greenkeepers. Don’t yank the flag out and send the ball spinning across the green. If you’ve got great big mitts, don’t start building a new hole by forcing your fingers into a confined space.
It’s common sense to be careful but the people who look after the course will be grateful and so will everyone else who plays the hole behind you.
Now have your say on this golf flagstick debate
What do you do with the flag and what do you think is correct golf flagstick etiquette? Why not let me know by leaving a comment on X?
Could the golf ball be rolled back for everyone?