The R&A and USGA issued new guidance to help clubs run Covid-19 competitions under the Rules of Golf – and ended a controversy that caused worldwide debate

It’s the debate that’s raged through the golf world since coronavirus lockdowns were eased – is a ball holed if it hits a foam noodle in the cup and bounces out?

Now the R&A and USGA have had the definitive say as they issued new guidance to help club committees better understand their options when running competitions under the Rules of Golf.

And the answer, of course, is… it is not holed.

Looking at the Hole and the Definition of Holed, the two governing bodies state that “a method of inserting the hole liner may be used that means that all of the ball does not fall below the surface of the putting green and can be easily retrieved by handling the ball only.”

They added: “But if any of the following provisions are used, play in such circumstances is not in accordance with the Rules of Golf:

  • Treating a ball as holed or holed with the next stroke if it is within a certain distance of the hole.
  • Having the hole liner sitting above the surface of the green and treating a ball as holed if it strikes the liner.
  • Treating a ball as holed when it has bounced out of the hole for any reason (for example, when it has bounced off the flagstick, a tray attached to the flagstick or the hole liner).

So that settles that argument – and the guidance also looks at a number of other areas as the governing bodies moved to clarify whether a competition being run under temporary measures in a bid to reduce the risk of Covid-19 was being played under the Rules of Golf.

On flagsticks, the guidance maintains that committees can choose to adopt temporary policies that require players to leave the flagstick in the hole at all times.

And they could “use a flagstick that has an added movable platform or tray to help prevent touching the flagstick when removing the ball from the hole” and adhere to the Rules.

But the guidance also says they need not have flagsticks at all, if they chose, and that committees could “allow players to touch the flagstick in a safe manner (for example, with a club) to assist in centring it while another player putts (this may be desirable in windy conditions when the flagstick is required to be left in the hole and is learning towards the player making the stroke).”

On bunkers, the guidance adds: “If rakes have been removed from the course, or if the committee has requested that rakes not be used, it is recognised that bunkers may not be smoothed as well as when there are rakes on the course. Players should be requested to smooth bunkers using their feet or a club, which was the method used to smooth bunkers until the relatively modern practice of having rakes on the course was introduced.

“If, as a result of there being no rakes, the committee decides it requires a Local Rule relating to bunkers, the committee may use one of the following options:

  • Change the status of the bunkers to be part of the general area and declare all of them to be ground under repair.
  • Treat abnormal conditions in the bunker to be ground under repair (with the committee having to describe what is considered “abnormal”), with relief being available from such abnormal conditions under Rule 16.1.
  • Introduce preferred lies in bunkers, for example allowing a place in the bunker within one club-length not nearer to the hole than where the ball came to rest.

But, if any of those provisions are used, “allowing a ball to be lifted, the bunker to be smoothed and the ball to be replaced” is not in accordance with the Rules of Golf.

The governing bodies still state that committees should consult handicapping authorities for guidance on whether scores are acceptable for qualifiers and they also say that committees considering taking action that isn’t in the guidance, or in the committee procedures in the Rules, should contact the R&A for help on whether the competition would be played under the Rules.

For the full guidance, visit the R&A website.

What do you think of the new measures? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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