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Woodhall Spa

Return of the rakes and a DQ risk for touching flags: Adapting the rules for an elite amateur event

Steve Carroll is at the Amateur Championships to see how England Golf are coping with Covid
 

It’s rakes for bunkers and the ultimate sanction for players who just can’t stop touching the flagstick – welcome to the Covid-19 Rules of Golf at an elite championship.

England Golf kicked off their 2020 tournament season with the English men’s and women’s amateur championships at Woodhall Spa this week and have adapted their Code of Conduct, adopted as a Local Rule, to meet with the realities of playing golf while coronavirus is still prevalent.

Your club may be telling you not to touch the flag, but players who can’t – or refuse to – get out of the habit at England Golf events this summer could find themselves being disqualified as tournament chiefs look to keep everyone safe.

“We’ve updated our Code of Conduct policy, which generally covers normal issues that can arise on the golf course but we’ve added in some Covid-19 procedures,” Toby Thorne, England Golf’s deputy championship director, tells NCG.

“If a player touches the flagstick the Code would kick in. It’s a warning to start with.

flagstick

“We don’t want to penalise someone if it’s just an accidental touching and it would be unfair to give out a two-shot penalty.

“But if they are warned and then do it again, then they would incur a [two-shot] penalty and if there’s obviously a persistent or a serious deliberate breach of that Code of Conduct they could be looking at disqualification.”

The Code advises the flagstick can be centred in the hole with a putter – “in a safe manner that does not involve using the hand, even when wearing a glove or using a towel” – and the regulation was effective when the tournament’s first day was marked by gusty winds. The centring of the flagstick is allowed while another player putts.

And while demanding players abide by social distancing guidelines, a regulation that can also be enforced by issuing penalties, the championship committee resisted allowing preferred lies in bunkers for this week’s showpiece events.

Players instead must hire a rake, or bring their own, to ensure the sand remains an intrinsic challenge.

England Golf

Thorne adds: “Rather than introducing any Local Rule for bunkers – we didn’t feel for a championship it was worthy of introducing preferred lies or making bunkers GUR – part of the whole process was to make sure that every competitor rents a rake for the week.

“Some have actually brought their own, which is good, but we’ve been renting out these portable rakes for a small hire charge, which they get back when they return the rake.

“If they want to keep the rake, they’ve paid for it. That’s been good too – so that we can have the bunkers in operation and the players are obviously encouraged to rake when they’ve played from it.”

He continued: “We’ve all seen that a preferred lie option in a bunker is getting everyone to be quite expert at playing bunker shots because you get a great lie every time you go in a bunker.

“We didn’t want to get into that situation. Bunkers are operating as usual and players are taking responsibility with these very lightweight portable rakes.”

  • Follow live scoring on the England Golf website

What do you think of England Golf’s approach? Should rakes be back in operation? Should you be able to touch the flagstick again? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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