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Okay, Now What? – The Rules Of Golf In Uncertain Times

by Rich McLean, Golf Canada Rules Official (@LobWedge)

Trying to find bright spots in our new “Covid-19” reality has been tough for all of us. Being able to play golf again is huge. But the times, they are a changin’.

Along with the social-distancing parameters that apply to us most everywhere we go, there are also modifications to the playing rules and handicapping rules to help us get around the course as safely, and sanely as possible.

The biggest change we’ve had to absorb is the virtual “removal” of the ultimate goal in any round we play, the hole. It’s been replaced by any manner of strange devices designed to stop the ball from actually going to the bottom of it. Cup edges raised a couple of inches above the surface, pool noodle pieces, or other materials, arranged to fill that sacred void, blocking us from fulfilling our goal… I’ll be honest, it’s a strange feeling putting to a section of raised pool noodle wrapped around the base of a flagstick.

Bunker rakes have also vanished from the landscape, leaving us to our own devices to “smooth things over” for those that follow. A foot, a clubhead, a tree branch… Thankfully, there are no restrictions on bringing your own rake or rake-type device along to fill in your bunker boo-boos. (Believe it or not, I use a paint roller cage with a retractable handle, and it works like a charm!)

And what about scoring and handicapping? Yikes!

Fear not, fellow warriors, Golf Canada has published the Covid-19 Rules of Golf & Rules of Handicapping Guidance to help us navigate the “new normal” links.

First up, scoring. Committees have been asked to allow alternate scoring methods that don’t strictly adhere to Rule 3.3 to be used to help minimize the number of “touchpoints” between players, such as entering your own score on the score card, instead of having a marker do it for you. Verbal confirmation of scores is also acceptable. Entering and verifying scores by text or email is also acceptable, as is any combination of physical and electronic scoring. Even pictures are good.

Next up, bunkers. As mentioned earlier, it’s strongly recommended that courses remove all on-course rakes from bunkers, again to mitigate “touchpoints” between players. If a club chooses to play it as it lies, players are encouraged to do their best to smooth any bunker areas they’ve played from, and in the case of golf carts being deployed, a rake can accompany each cart. Clubs can also choose to change the status of bunkers to either part of the general area or declare them to be Ground Under Repair, thus opening up additional relief options to the player. The only condition not recommended is preferred lies.

Moving on to flagsticks. The recommendation here is to leave the flagstick in the hole at all times. No touching. Committees can even adopt this guideline in their codes of conduct to further discourage handling of the flagstick. Additionally, if a club REALLY wants the ball to go in the hole, there are allowances made under the Equipment Rules to allow external attachments for lifting the ball out of the hole.

Finally, the concept of actually holing the ball, and how it figures in scoring and handicapping. Again, the recommendation is that the hole liner or cup be set up in such a way that it restricts the ball from going completely below the surface of the green. From a handicapping perspective this could be sticky, if not for a rarely used section of the handicap manual (yes, it actually exists) that has been dusted off for this situation.

The concept of “most likely score” has been around for a long time in handicap circles, and additional temporary measures have been put in to place to allow us to legally count scores for holes that are not technically completed for the time being. In other words, a “gimme” (or gimmes) can be taken.

I know it’s not the golf we’re used to, or the golf we want, but if we dig in and keep our eyes on the prize, this will all be behind us one day. Stay safe.

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