How to Tend the Flag in Golf

Playing golf with other people is fun for a lot of reasons, but it also comes in handy on the course. One of the best examples of these benefits is what’s known as tending the flag. On the putting green, the flagstick needs to be removed from the cup before the ball goes in — otherwise it’s a two-stroke penalty. Since not every putt you’ll have will be close enough for you to see the hole without the help of the flag, having a fellow golfer around to tend the flag while you putt is important and expected.

When to Tend the Flag

The only time it’s necessary to tend the flag is on the putting green. If your ball is off of the putting green — whether in the fringe, a few inches off the green or in the tee box, hundreds of yards away — your ball is allowed to fall into the cup with the flagstick still in place.

Usually, if the golfer can see the cup from where his ball is on the green, he’ll just ask that the flagstick is removed before he hits his putt. Tending the flag comes into play when the golfer whose turn it is to putt cannot see the hole without the aid of the flagstick.

Who Tends the Flag

In a golf group, the golfer whose ball is farthest from the hole is up to play. The person whose ball is closest to the pin will be last to play and should tend the flag for the other golfer(s) until it’s his turn to play.

Tend the Flag Correctly

When it’s your turn to tend the flag for a playing partner, you’ll want to be prepared to do it correctly. Here’s what you need to know to tend the flag like a professional caddie:

  1. Get permission: First, make sure the golfer you’re trying to help actually wants your help. Don’t tend the flag for someone without first getting asked, or asking him.
  2. Watch your shadow: If your shadow is being cast along the line of the putt, move to a different spot to give your playing partner a fair shot.
  3. Stand aside: Stand a full arm’s length away from the flagstick so that you’re as far away from it as possible while still being able to reach it.
  4. Grab the flag and pin together: Don’t just hold the pin; grab the top of the pin and keep the flag scrunched in your hand. This way, you can stop any distracting flapping the flag might be doing in the wind.
  5. Stand still and be quiet: Just like you’d expect someone to do for you, make sure that you keep as still and quiet as possible while the golfer putts so you don’t distract him.
  6. Pull the flagstick after contact: Wait until the ball gets rolling before you pull the pin. Pulling it too early may make it tough for the golfer to see if his putt has a chance of going in.
  7. Don’t wait too long: Take the flagstick out when the ball reaches the halfway point on its way to the cup. Waiting any longer than that, even if the ball doesn’t seem to have a chance to go in, can cause some unnecessary stress.

Hot Tip: Watch Where You Step

Although it’s a fundamental tip for whenever you’re playing golf with others, watching where you step while you are tending the flag and when you are done is especially important. Make sure that you walk behind your playing partners’ golf balls, or behind the cup. Similarly, when you lay the flagstick down, keep your partners’ positions in mind. If you’re playing with more than one other person, pay extra attention to where everybody is, so you don’t cross their lines.

After the Putt

Just as important as tending the flag is what you do with it after the putt. Once the flagstick is no longer necessary, it is the tender’s job to move the flagstick to a place where it won’t get in the way of any golfer’s remaining putts. The best place to put a flagstick is at the edge of the green. If possible, don’t put it at the edge of the green behind the hole on someone’s intended line.

Remember, tending the flag is a friendly and helpful part of golf etiquette. As long as you know the rules, and tend the flag the way you’d want someone to tend it for you, you can’t really go wrong.

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