Flagstick: Defining It and Its Role in Golf

Two golfers on a green, one holding the flagstick while the other putts
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A flagstick is exactly that: a stick with a flag on it*. You see them on putting greens to mark the location of the hole. Some golf courses color code the flags on flagsticks to denote if the hole location is near the front, center or back of the green. Another way of doing the same thing is to put the flag high, middle or low on the stick. (A course that does this should note the practice on its scorecard or pin sheet.)

Prior to 2019, it was a penalty for the golf ball to enter the cup with the flagstick still in the hole for any stroke played from the surface of the putting green. But in the Rules of Golf that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, that penalty was removed — it is now OK for golfers to putt to a hole with the flagstick in or out, at the golfer's preference.

In the golf rules, situations involving the flagstick are covered in Rule 13-2, within the broader Rule 13 that addresses situations on the putting greens. Those situations include whether the flag must be removed, what happens when a golfer removes the flag without authorization, what to do if the ball hits the flagstick or lodges against it, and so on. So be sure to familiarize yourself with Rule 13-2 for any questions regarding the role of the flagstick in golf.

(*Note that a flagstick does not have to have a flag, or banner or bunting, flying at its top. Rarely, golfers encounter other items at the top of the flagstick, such as wicker baskets at Merion Golf Club.)

Definition of 'Flagstick' from The Rules of Golf

The official definition of flagstick from the Rules of Golf is written by the USGA and R&A. In the condensed Player's Edition, this is the definition:

"A movable pole provided by the Committee that is placed in the hole to show you where the hole is."

In the Full Rules edition, this is the definition:

"A movable pole provided by the Committee that is placed in the hole to show players where the hole is. The flagstick includes the flag and any other material or objects attached to the pole."

In a separate section of the Rules of Golf (not included in the normal rulebook) called the Equipment Rules, the governing bodies also state that the flagstick must be circular in cross-section, cannot include any shock-absorbing material or other material that might influence the movement of the golf ball.

The rules do not require that the flagstick be any specific height, but the USGA recommends a flagstick height of at least seven feet.

'Flagstick' vs. 'Pin'

"Flagstick" and "pin" are synonyms and are used interchangeably by golfers. ("Flagstick" is often shortened to just "flag," too.) However, the governing bodies always use flagstick, never pin. So you might say that flagstick is the technically accurate term of the two words.

The Flagstick In Play

One of the things about the flagstick and its role in golf that might perplex newcomers to the game is the practice of "tending the flagstick." That means that one golfer stands next to the hole and holds the flagstick, then removes it before the other golfer's putted ball reaches the hole. There are certain rules and issues of etiquette surrounding this practice that are covered in our FAQ on the subject, How to Tend the Flagstick and When to Request It.