As with most topics in golf (especially when pertaining to the rules of golf) this is not an open and shut case. Countless hours of testing has been done by independent firms using sophisticated and perfectly measured methods to collect mind-numbing and yet potentially useful data. Amateur and professional golfers alike have spent countless hours on the greens doing the same. What have we learned? Apparently leaving the flag in if it is thinner at the bottom and softer as to not promote a harder rebound off of it is beneficial. So do you change your strategy when you go to a golf course in a climate where it’s normally windy and the flagstick is thicker at the bottom as well as potentially firmer to withstand the wind? Possibly so. The governing bodies and official rule makers of golf have stated that they changed this rule to save time, not to make the game easier and help you lower your scores. Doesn’t mean we as professional and amateur golfers can’t use it for that reason, right? Unfortunately, from what I’ve learned from speaking to many golfers on all levels is that is doing just the opposite.
It used to be pretty simple. Everybody gets on the green…the flag comes out, everybody holes out, then they proceed to the next hole. Now each person has a choice and the potential to begin the three ring circus. If the person who is the farthest away wants it out, but there’s a player that’s closer who wants it in we have created more work (time) than we had before the new rule. Do you take a survey of all players on the green before beginning this process now? Do you let the people that want it left in putt first? What happens if you potentially would have had the benefit of a read from another player’s putt, but they want the flag out and now you’re hitting first and missing out on what would have been a slight advantage based on the old rules? Do you now change your style and leave it in just to see the path of their putt? What about the ethical side of it all? Not stepping in someone’s line..is that now altered because some do and some don’t take the flag out?
I’m not alone in thinking that the governing bodies kind of dropped the ball on this one. I haven’t heard a single Club Pro say that it’s speeding up play and I don’t expect to. We have created more debates by altering the automatic “you’re away, it’s your turn” tradition, created more foot traffic on the green by removing and replacing the flag multiple times, and ultimately just added more time to a round of golf. I’m not alone when I say I don’t think the sport we love can afford that.