How to read flags to lower your score

Here is how to decipher the messages that they send out

golf flag
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Some clubs send out signals in their flags to signify how deep on the green the pin is to help you plan your approach shot better. Here's how to decipher the code.

Flags can send out messages. Famously before the Battle of Trafalgar they spelt out the exhortation to Nelson’s fleet that “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

This message was intended to have started ‘Nelson requires’. But it was pointed out by one more expert than Nelson at deciphering flags that ‘England expects’ would only require two flags. ‘Nelson requires’ would have had to have been spelt out letter by letter .

Flags on golf courses can send out simple messages, too, to those who know the code.

At St Andrews different coloured flags were instituted to depict whether it was a front-nine or back-nine hole. This was because St Andrews has many double greens and so players needed to know which of the two flags on the green related to the hole they were on.

Some other courses adopted this policy, including those with layouts lacking double greens. Some clubs simply have the same coloured flags throughout.

But others use the flag colour to signal how deep on the green the pin has been placed.

Understand this code and you can better plan your approach shots to reduce the length of the putts, and thus your score.

Clubs can use different colour schemes for this, but a typical one mirrors the colours on the tee markers. Thus red, for the front tees, is used when the pin is on the front section of the green, and so on. Thus a back pin placement is often a blue or white flag, and a central one is either white or yellow.

Another way some clubs signal the depth of a pin placement is by a smaller flag, or a ball, on the flagstick positioned below the main flag.

If this flag or ball is high up the stick, almost immediately below the main flag, then the pin is at the back of the green. If lower down the stick, then the pin is at the front of the green.

What signal is the golfing Nelson broadcasting with its flags? A quick phone call to Nelson Golf Club in Lancashire elicits the information that they have adopted the St Andrews policy of flags, and use red flags on the front nine holes, yellow on the back nine.

Nelson requires every man do his duty and work out the pin depth for themselves.

Roderick Easdale

Contributing Writer Golf courses and travel are Roderick’s particular interests and he was contributing editor for the first few years of the Golf Monthly Travel Supplement. He writes travel articles and general features for the magazine, travel supplement and website. He also compiles the magazine's crossword. He is a member of Trevose Golf & Country Club and has played golf in around two dozen countries. Cricket is his other main sporting love. He is the author of five books, four of which are still in print: The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse; The Don: Beyond Boundaries; Wally Hammond: Gentleman & Player and England’s Greatest Post-War All Rounder.