It may be carelessness. It may be a bit of bad housekeeping from the group in front. But, occasionally, you’ll approach a green to find the flagstick is not in the hole.
I’ve seen it happen on the course myself and so I was clearly drawn to this situation emailed by David Campbell.
“You play towards the green, but you can’t see the flag,” he wrote. “When you get there, the flag is lying on the green behind the hole – the players in front have forgotten to replace it.
“Is it a movable obstruction? If so, is Rule 8.1d(1)/2 applicable? If you think it could help you, can it be left in place or replaced if removed by another player.”
What do you reckon? Can you keep it lying on the ground – even if it will help your next stroke – or are you obliged to return it to its rightful place in the hole? Prepare to be amazed…
Rules of Golf explained: Leaving movable obstructions where they were when ball came to rest
The flagstick is indeed a movable obstruction – and it includes the flag along with any other material or objects that are attached to the pole.
The rule number David refers to in his email is a clarification you can find in the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf and which is titled “player is entitled to have loose impediments or movable obstructions left where they were when ball came to rest”.
I think you can see where we’re going with this. While you can’t move objects into place that might deflect or stop a ball in motion you are, generally speaking, “entitled to the conditions affecting the stroke that [a player] had when the ball came to rest”.
It doesn’t stop anyone moving movable obstructions or loose impediments but “if this worsened the conditions affecting the stroke of another player, that player may restore the conditions by replacing the objects”.
And it doesn’t matter that those objects might assist you. The clarification uses the example of a player with a downhill putt who deliberately leaves some loose impediments behind the hole. Another player, who thinks they might serve as a backstop, removes them.
“Since the player’s conditions affecting the stroke have been worsened, they are allowed to replace the loose impediments”.
Even then, though, there might be still be a twist and it comes when the ball is actually in motion.
When that happens, Rule 11.3 says a player must not deliberately lift or remove a loose impediment or movable obstruction to affect where the ball might come to rest.
All as you’d expect so far. Except that there’s an exception to what’s described. Want to know what that is? You’ve guessed it – “a removed flagstick”.
This rule “does not prohibit a player from lifting or removing” it when the ball’s actually on its way.
I wonder if the rule is actually implying a flagstick that’s been removed by the players involved, rather than when you come across a green with a flag that isn’t in the hole. I’ll endeavour to find the answer and report back.
But players waiting by the flag to whip it out of sight, if they felt its position might help another player, would certainly be an interesting ‘discussion’ to watch.
What do you make of this golf flagstick rule? Let me know with a tweet.
Have a question for our Rules of Golf expert?
Despite the simplification of the Rules of Golf, there are still some that leave us scratching our heads. And as I’ve passed the R&A’s Level 3 rules exam with distinction, I’ll try to help by featuring the best in this column.
You can read all of Steve’s Rules of Golf explained columns here.
Could the golf ball be rolled back for everyone?