At the golf course where I work and teach in Savannah, Georgia, our men’s league in December adopted the use of the new Rules of Golf earlier than the official start date of January 1, 2019. On one of my rare days off, I signed up to play in the Tuesday individual game and was looking forward to playing under the new rules with official competition on the line.

Let me say, it was a weird experience! Now, we’ve all bent the rules somewhat when playing casual golf, but this was a whole different animal when putting pencil to scorecard. In particular, it was somewhat strange to be tapping in a putt with the flagstick in the hole and not receiving a penalty. The first time I did it, it felt almost like deliberate rules-breaking…except you weren’t. Removing leaves from the bunker before you played your shot didn’t seem right, either, but that’s our new reality, as is smoothing out your line of putt.

As expected, the flagstick rule was the most prominent difference in the way the round was played. My fellow competitors almost every time elected to keep the flagstick in while putting downhill, and tending the flagstick on a long putt is really no longer necessary. I feared that the new rule would result in one person wanting the flagstick out, the next person wanting it in, etc., but that did not turn out to be the case. For the most part, I elected to keep it out because that’s what I’m used to, but Dave Pelz’s research showing it’s almost always beneficial to keep the flagstick in the hole still resonates with me, so I may adopt that protocol.

By the time you’re reading this, the new rules will already be in effect. For more information, visit the USGA website at

By Mark Harman, USGTF National Course Director

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