Flagstick In The Hole – Yes Or No?

One of the main rule changes which came into force in 2019 affects putts – the flag may now be left in the hole when putting. However, this has led to controversy as to whether the flagstick is more of a help or a hindrance to holing the ball. Here's what we concluded.

One of the main USGA rule changes which came into force in 2019 affects putts – the flag may now be left in the hole when putting. However, this has led to controversy about whether the flagstick is more of a help or a hindrance to holing the ball.

Flagstick In

In an empirical study, our rules guru Yves C. Ton-That (author of the global bestseller “Golf Rules Quick Reference”) made 1,000 standardized putts, 500 putts with and 500 putts without the flag. And the findings were clear-cut. If the pin is not leaning towards you, leaving it in the hole always helps to hole the ball.

Furthermore, a positive side effect of leaving the flagstick in has also been identified – balls that are not holed come to rest significantly nearer to the hole if the flag has not been removed. And last but not least, leaving the flag in the hole saves 15-20 minutes per round – however, only if all the players in the group handle it in the same way; otherwise, it may even slow down the game.

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  1. Glenn

    August 15, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    Looks good for on center putts that are too hard, but what about off center putts that are just a little hard?

    • jack Hixon

      February 12, 2020 at 10:01 am

      I am in favor of leaving flag stick in as it does improve success in making more putts but more importantly it speeds up game if everyone in group complys. A no brainier but unfortunately there are too many folks who are stubborn and follow what they see on TV as most pros take the flagstick out.

  2. Doug Heisey

    August 15, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    I’ve noticed at my club most golfers are letting the flag in, however many have a problem getting the ball out with the flag in which overtime can cause damage to the hole.

    • Bill Bartlett

      September 17, 2019 at 1:34 pm

      There is a product that takes care of that problem. I’ve seen it at a few courses in Jacksonville, FL. It’s called a Putt Returner. It’s a rubber attachment to the bottom of the flagstick that allows you to remove the ball from the hole using the flagstick. Check it out at Backathecup.com

  3. Steve

    August 15, 2019 at 5:55 pm

    Some factors were not considered or described in this request.

    For example, see a moving flag’s shadow can be/is a distraction. Further, hearing the noise of the flag blowing can also add to the golfers distraction. In addition, the confidence, or false sense of security, of the flag in the hole offers the golfer the choice of hitting the putt harder, believing that they can at worst hit the flag on the putt. The problem would be if you miss the hole and flag altogether hitting the putt harder. The come back putt might be as much as 5 feet or more offering another opportunity to miss the putt.

    Test like this make too many assumptions without considering others factors not thought of.

    • Chuck

      March 19, 2021 at 5:26 am

      Sorry Steve but if the flag blowing a little or the shadow cause you a problem, you might be the problem. I don’t think about or notice those at all. Just like if someone moves near the green, i just don’t notice. Focus on your task not a bunch of small external stuff. Flag stick in!! Frankly it most always has been. I am playing with friends not as a professional.

  4. Mick Simpson

    August 15, 2019 at 11:54 pm

    One thing not considered is hole damage.
    At my home club, I played recently with one of the green keepers who had actually cut the holes that morning for the days club competition.*
    I noticed occasionally when he retrieved his ball from the cup I noticed he tapped the sides of the hole. I thought it was a superstition, but when I asked him he said that when people leave the pin in the majority retrieve the ball by ‘yanking’ the flag out, which causes either the ball or flagstick to damage the edges.
    He then said he’d taken his time to inspect them afterwards and was dismayed by the amount of damage in one day this had caused.
    * I suppose his hole positioning helped his gross 69 -2 round!

    • Pull it

      August 17, 2019 at 3:21 pm

      That is the reason that became the rule about pulling the pin out, as greens got firmer, faster, better mowed, the damage became more apparent, unlike in the old days when the greens were thicker, slower, tougher.

    • Ron Mullard

      August 21, 2019 at 8:35 am

      That’s why you now have an option….in or out ….it’s each individuals “own” choice.It’s “not” a rule that has to be abided by so reasons for not leaving aren’t needed it’s up to “you”.It used be left in prior to 1956 ish don’t know why the decision was made it had to be removed .

    • Bill Bartlett

      September 17, 2019 at 6:37 pm

      There is a product that takes care of that problem. I’ve seen it at a few courses in Jacksonville, FL. It’s called a Putt Returner. It’s a rubber attachment to the bottom of the flagstick that allows you to remove the ball from the hole using the flagstick. Check it out at Backathecup.com

  5. danfromfreddybeach

    August 16, 2019 at 4:44 am

    if the flag is leaning towards you or if the wind is blowing the flag around, take the flag out. Otherwise, leave it in. This was the recommendation of Dave Pelz who has done far more research on various speeds and situations.

    • Stanley Rokusek

      August 22, 2019 at 1:06 am

      It’s like the man says in the commercial, fish oil or crill oil. OMG it’s both, it doesn’t matter. What bull shit. Play the damn round and keep moving.

      • Tony Denogean

        September 17, 2019 at 12:22 pm

        Seriously, not sure if you’re dying or just a loser, but your comments are not helpful. Have a great day.

    • Tony Denogean

      September 17, 2019 at 12:28 pm

      I have Peltz’s bible, little technical but outcome is the same..leave flag stick in unless it doesn’t sit completely vertical.

  6. Leo

    August 16, 2019 at 9:49 am

    Studies have been done in the past about leaving the flag in when chipping and reached the same conclussion and it is a clear advantage to leave the flagstick in and aim at it not the hole

    • Stanley Rokusek

      August 22, 2019 at 1:07 am

      It doesn’t matter when you can’t hit either one.

  7. Raymond CHASTEL

    August 17, 2019 at 11:57 am

    I saw another study which came to the exact opposite conclusion :you hole more puts with the flagstick is out of the hole..
    The oft criticized (for his slow but thoughtful play )BRYSON DE CHAMBEAU is more nuanced :when the pin is made of metal ,the ball may bounce off the pin ,when the pin is made of plastic there is less rebound .
    It all depends on how fast the ball is rolling when it reaches the hole

  8. Mike

    August 17, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    I’m not sure that this is as accurate. Most golfers do not putt as aggressively as shown in video. Of course not as many putts will drop when banged into the stick. I’m old school and pull pin for all puts and short chips around green. I’ve had more hole outs denied than have gone in. Fake news…..

  9. Jac Mac

    August 17, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    I agree with Raymond. The type of flagstick can make a big difference. Our club uses tapered, fiberglass flagsticks which I think reject the ball more than the fiberglass constant diameter (thin or skinny) flagsticks. Pelz says leave it in, but I think it depends on the type of flagstick.

  10. L

    August 17, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    You’re putting the wrong way.

  11. Dan Serra

    August 18, 2019 at 9:10 am

    The advantage is definitely with the pin in. The major exception is when the wind is blowing and the flagstick is bending.

    Flagstick must be vertical.

  12. Thomas

    August 21, 2019 at 6:52 am

    I would also suggest removing the flagstick when your putt line of sight crosses its shadow, especially when the flag is moving in the wind.

  13. Terrance

    August 21, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    For short putts, 18″ and less, the pin out is best to see the hole without any distraction. Just have someone nearby hold the pin for quick and easy replacement. The ball is quickly retrieved, no damage, no time loss.

  14. Bobby Mangum

    August 21, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    For the first 3 or 4 hundred years golf has been played, the player had the choice of in or out. Golfers through years of experience knew the pin in was an advantage. The old pro’s came to the conclusion that if the put HAD to go in, take the pin out as a put hit too hard could bounce off. If it is earlier in the round and you are just trying to make as many puts as possible, leave it in. By the way, what golfers today think of as the old rule, did not come into effect until about 1962 or ’63. No, the 20th century date is not a misprint. I distinctly remember playing in tournaments under the rule that allowed the player to leave the pin in and there was no penalty for hitting an unattended pin.


    August 22, 2019 at 3:23 pm


  16. Chris V

    September 17, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    In or out is a matter of debate, regarding which is better for holing putts. What I’ve observed of myself and others I play with, is that leaving the flag in results in a more haphazard approach to putting. Not marking and cleaning the ball. Not carefully reading the break. Whichever way you choose, be just as deliberate about putting as you would otherwise.

  17. H.A. Reece

    October 18, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Seriously??? All these comments on either side of the subject don’t really mean squat. Bottom line ….is ….. Now, by rule, you have the choice of leaving the flag in the cup or taking it out when putting. Just do which ever gives you the most confidence in being able to make your putt.

  18. Ken Brown

    November 5, 2019 at 4:28 am

    Sorry but I’ve played golf for 57 years, I’m a fair to good putter and the flagstick has seldom been in when I’ve sunk putts in the past. Not going to change now. I do leave it in for long putts.

  19. Rusty Carr

    February 12, 2020 at 7:00 am

    What about comparing putts that are the right speed to go in without the flagstick versus how many get knocked out by the flagstick?

  20. Robert Flanagan

    February 12, 2020 at 11:12 am

    I feel it slows down play. Something we are trying to avoid. Retired Superintendent. Bob.

  21. Leon Amer

    July 2, 2021 at 9:00 am

    What about the definition of a ball being “holed”, as in, completely below the grass surface? If the flag is a bit off vertical, as I saw yesterday with a few cup liners and flag bottom weights worn to the point of needing replacement, what if the putt would have dropped without the flag in, but, due to the tilt of the pin, the ball simply sits between the rim of the hole and the pin, unable to fall all the way to the bottom? Does that count as a made putt? Or must the flag be VERY GENTLY removed to allow the ball to fall the rest of the way? Anyone know the rule on this?


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