While we’re all excited that golf courses are beginning to reopen in Southern California, it doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet. If we’re not careful, golf could be taken away again just as quickly as it returned. To promote social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19, the USGA has released a series of updates to the rules of golf:
1. Hole modifications
If you’ve played a round since courses have reopened, you’ve likely noticed that there have been modifications to prevent the ball actually going into the cup. Whether it’s raising the hole liner above the lip or placing a pool noodle or plastic piping in the hole, the goal is to eliminate a common touchpoint on the course. Thankfully, the USGA has temporarily invoked the “most likely score” guidelines for all rounds. This means players should use their best judgment for determining how many strokes it would take for the ball to go in the hole under normal playing circumstances, and those scores are still eligible for handicapping purposes. In other words, don’t be afraid to take some gimmies.
In an effort to further reduce the number of golfers touching the flagstick, some courses may elect to remove flagsticks entirely. Since this obviously makes approach shots more difficult, courses should provide golfers with either a uniform hole location (e.g. all holes will be on the front left area of the green) or detailed documentation of where the holes are located.
3. Bunkers and bunker rakes
Another common touchpoint being removed from courses are bunker rakes. Due to the issues this can cause for players landing in bunkers, courses can implement local rules to circumvent problematic lies. The two options are to either declare the entire bunker as ground under repair, allowing for players to take a free drop outside the bunker, or allow players to move from the “disturbed area” to a more preferable area of the bunker. In either case, you should still do your best to help the situation by giving the bunker a quick sweep with your feet should you find yourself in such a predicament.
As restrictions continue to loosen and tournament play is allowed, another issue that could arise is the handling of scorecards. The USGA recommends that clubs and other tournament organizers utilize technology to reduce scorecards passing among players. That means either utilizing electronic scoring options (like the USGA Tournament Management app) or having players send photos of scorecards electronically.
You can read more details about how the USGA is amending the rule book to allow for continued score posting, handicapping, and eventually tournament play here. We’ve also outlined why now is the best time to start tracking your Handicap Index if you’re not already.
If you’re ready to get started now, you can get a GHIN Handicap Index free for 60 days here.