USGA Relaxes Rules For Holing Out, Handicap Posting During Outbreak

While many health experts agree that playing golf during the coronavirus pandemic is a great way to get outside to exercise and socialize so long as the proper precautions are taken, the USGA is doing its part to adapt its governance of the game to these unprecedented times.

Among the adjustments courses have made to mitigate the risk of spreading unwanted germs or disease, a nearly-universal adaptation for courses around the world have been the adaptation to the golf hole itself.

Whether it be keeping the hole liner above ground level or the inclusion of a noodle or some other device within the hole in an effort to keep folks from sticking their hands into the cup and touching a communal flagstick, the USGA released an informative Frequently Asked Questions page on March 20 that answered questions many golfers have.

Most notably, as the temperate portions of the country enter into the peak seasons, many golfers are wondering if you can post scores to your handicap due to the variations of the game being played.

“The 2019 Rules of Golf were drafted to offer each Committee the flexibility to make decisions as to how golf is played at their course or in competition and the Committee Procedures section of the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf offers a significant amount of guidance and recommendations on how to address circumstances unique to each course or competition,” the USGA’s statement read.

“From the perspective of the Rules of Handicapping, the most frequent questions received are primarily related to the acceptability of scores for posting to a player’s scoring record. In particular, relating to modifying the hole and not requiring the player to “hole out” as required under the Rules of Golf. These are founded in a desire to minimize the possibility of exposing golfers to coronavirus and have included leaving the hole liner raised above the putting surface or placing various objects into the hole so the ball can be more easily removed. In these specific cases, provided guidance from health and governmental officials is being followed, a temporary measure is in place within the United States to accept scores played under these conditions for handicap purposes using the most likely score guidelines, even though the player has not holed out.”

Aside from relaxed rules around holing out and posting score to your handicap, the USGA has relaxed its rules as it pertains to bunkers and rakes, allowing players to use a form of “rake and place” by using a foot or club to smooth an otherwise disturbed piece of a bunker. If needed, the USGA recommends a preferred lie local rule.

The USGA also relaxed and made recommendations for scoring and scorecard usage that will limit the passing back and forth of cards and/or pencils to keep, mark or attest a score. 

You can read the USGA’s full guidance statement on COVID-19 here and find the full FAQ page for adjusted rulings here.