Rules Guy: It is permissible to use the flagstick to get my ball out of the hole?

golfers holding flagstick

Must you reach down to grab your ball, or can you legally use the flagstick to extract it from the hole?

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The Rules of Golf are tricky! Thankfully, we’ve got the guru. Our Rules Guy knows the book front to back. Got a question? He’s got all the answers.

I have a bad back, so I pull the ball from the hole using the flag. In a recent match, my opponent said this was a penalty and that I lost the hole. We called the pro, and he agreed it was a penalty. Were they right? —Cheryl Kelly, via email

The best answer comes via Google. Type “device to get golf ball out of hole,” hit return, click the “Shopping” menu, and you’ll be presented with a wealth of options. There are “Pick-Ups,” “Retrievers,” “Claws” and “Grabbers” galore, even one called the “Back Saver.” Rules Guy strongly suspects they are less likely to damage the lip of the hole than your yanking method.

Flagstick shadow
Rules Guy: Can I use the flagstick’s shadow as an alignment aid?
By: Rules Guy

As to legality, the answer is: Your opponent and pro were both wrong. While your ball retrieval technique is strongly discouraged, the only potential penalty would be disqualification under Rule 1.2(a) for Serious Misconduct, which would only come into the picture if you repeatedly damaged cup after cup after being asked to stop using the flag as a scoop.

Again, however: Please find a gizmo to do the job more safely for you and the cup alike.

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Got a question about the Rules? Ask the Rules Guy! Send your queries, confusions and comments to We promise he won’t throw the book at you.

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