• Alistair Tait

Temporary rules to beat the Abominable Snowman


Do you feel as though you’ve been playing behind someone with size 12 feet since you returned to the fairways after lockdown? No wonder the R&A and USGA have released temporary rules on bunkers so we can return to competitive play.

The last thing you want in a round of golf is to find yourself in a bunker footprint left by the Abominable Snowman.

The governing bodies have also issued temporary rules to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus so clubs can hold competitions. The other three deal with scorecards, flagsticks and holing out.

It seems golfers can be divided into two camps since rakes were removed from bunkers to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection: those who try to smooth footprints after playing a bunker shot, and those who think they’re playing in the Open Championship and accompanied by a rake wielding green keeper.

The latter group is obviously in the minority but the evidence they leave is unsightly, not to mention completely lacking in etiquette. The people who do this are obviously the same minority who don’t fix pitch marks or replace divots.

Many at my club, Woburn Golf Club, have insisted on relief from a bunker footprint. I hear the same rule has been instituted informally at other clubs too. Said groups will be glad to know the governing bodies have made it legal in competitive play. Expect it to become a temporary local rule outside of competitive play too.

The R&A and USGA have deemed that clubs can:

“Change the status of the bunkers to be part of the general area and declare all of them to be ground under repair.”

Or

“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.”

The former suggestion doesn’t do it for me. Sand play is an important part of the game, which is why most clubs will probably go for the latter rule.

On scorecards, the governing bodies have decreed that

“Players may enter their own hole scores on the scorecard (it is not necessary for a marker to do it).
“It is not necessary to have a marker physically certify the player’s hole scores, but some form of verbal certification should take place if at all possible.
“It is not necessary to physically return a scorecard to the Committee provided the Committee can accept the scores in another way.”

You have to wonder how long the humble scorecard has to go in this game anyway. There could come a time when we simply enter our own scores on our phones in competitions, with the scores going straight to a database in the clubhouse. The stipulation being that playing partners use their own phones to verify said scores.


On flagsticks, the governing bodies have decided temporary measures include:

“Require that players leave the flagstick in the hole at all times.
“Not have flagsticks at all.
“A Committee may temporarily decide to use a flagstick that has an added movable platform or tray to help prevent touching the flagstick when removing the ball from the hole.
“Allow players to centre the flagstick in a safe manner which does not involve using the hand, even when wearing a glove or using a towel (for example, by using a club). The centring of the flagstick may be allowed while another player putts.”

The definition of holing out can be temporarily changed so 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.”

A ball won’t be deemed holed if any of the following happen:

“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).

For me the bunker rule is the most sensible of these temporary measures. I just hope the Abominable Snowman playing in front of me doesn’t need several attempts to escape sand. Otherwise taking relief in small bunkers may prove difficult.

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© 2020 by ALISTAIR TAIT GOLF

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