Aim for the Pin: The Flagstick of Golf

Flag in hole on golf course overlooking ocean.
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Another name for the flagstick, the term pin is used in golf to refer to the pole and oftentimes red flag that courses use to mark each hole on the course. The pins are removed when the golfer gets closer to the hole, or if the ball is flying directly for a hole-in-one from the tee grounds.

The term flagstick is used throughout the official PGA Tour rulebook to denote regulations regarding this marker, but the word pin is used colloquially by recreational golfers more often than in professional competitions.

Some golf courses color-code their flagsticks to denote the location of the hole in relation to the putting green — whether or not it is near the back, front, right, left or center.

Rule 17 of the United States Golfers' Association's "Rules of Golf" lays out four rules, and a few exceptions, to govern the use of pins or flagstick during both match and stroke formats of friendly and professional competitions — though some recreational golfers may choose to ignore or modify these rules according to their playing style.

The Pin According to the Rules of Golf

The official definition of the flagstick from the Rules of Golf includes some information about the specific shape of the flagstick. Here is that definition, from the USGA/R&A:

The "flagstick" is a movable straight indicator, with or without bunting or other material attached, centered in the hole to show its position. It must be circular in cross-section. Padding or shock absorbent material that might unduly influence the movement of the ball is prohibited.

Though this definition does not include any specific rules for handling or moving the flagstick while the ball is in play, it does stipulate that the design of the flagstick itself is not allowed to interfere with the way a ball moves when near the hole.

Rule 17: The Flagstick

For detailed information on how a flagstick is to be handled during professional and recreational golf, the USGA's "Rules of Golf" lays out the specifics in  Rule 17, but the basic rules govern when the pin can be attended (or handled by a caddie or golfer) and what happens in the event of unauthorized handling of the flagstick.

The first article of the rule states that a player may have the flagstick or pin attended or held up to indicate the position of the hole, but if this is not done before the player makes his or her stroke, it must not be done during the stroke or while the player's ball is in motion if doing so might influence the ball's movement.

The rest of the rule is pretty self-explanatory, but it does also mention that if an opponent's caddie or an opponent during match play or stroke play attends, removes, or holds up the flagstick without the player's authority, he or she loses the hole in match play and adds two strokes to the hole in stroke play.