New Coronavirus Golf Rule

New Coronavirus Golf Rule March 23, 2020

This coronavirus crisis is so depressing! But golf has come along to give us a little humor about it.

Despite all of the professional and amateur sports organizations cancelling the playing of their competitions due to the current coronavirus pandemic, called COVID-19, the United States Golf Association U.S.G.A) is bucking the tide by encouraging golfers to keep playing. Evidence of this is that the U.S.G.A released a statement today about a new and temporary rule for “holing out.” To play golf with others, yet maintain social distancing as recommended by so many health organizations starting with the World Health Organization (WHO), this new golf rule is an effort to prevent golfers from having to pick their ball out of the hole and thereby risk getting the virus from a golfer who previously had touched the inside edge of the hole, the cup liner, or the flagstick in retrieving their ball.

There are various ways this rule is being observed. Mostly, it has to do with the greenskeeper who digs the holes and sets the cup liners on the greens early in the morning before play starts. They are doing one of two things: when installing the cup liner, it is not being shoved down into the hole so that part of the liner is above the green surface, or it is being installed upside down and then not being shoved down all the way. That’s weird!

This new rule therefore provides that if the golfer’s ball strikes the cup liner, in which it would usually bounce off in some direction, that stroke is counted as a hole-out. So, no more problem with lip-outs. Plus, you can take dead aim at the hole and hit the ball as hard as you want, that is, as long as it hits the liner. That way you could take the break right out of the putt. But that’s risky business. What if you miss the hole? You might be chipping back! Or be in the sand pit. Or a water hazard.

Not only that, the U.S.G.A. is accepting that such rounds of golf can count toward their handicapping system. Thus, the rule is called “Rules and Handicapping Guidance During COVID-19 Era.” Part of the rule states, “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.”

One of my nightmares I sometimes have is all about this new rule. I dream that I hit a putt, my ball hits the top edge of the liner sunk into the hole, and the ball bounces out, rolling right back at me. I have dreamed that I had to jump out of the way so the ball didn’t hit me, which is a penalty stroke if it does.

One time on the PGA Tour my caddie was holding the pin for me. I hit my putt, he tried to pull the pin out of the cup, and as he did he unexpectedly pulled the liner halfway out of the hole. My ball hit the liner and bounced away. That can happen occasionally, usually because sand gets between bottom of the pin and where it enters the liner indent, causing the pin to be stuck in it. That’s why on the PGA Tour, you might notice that when a caddie holds the pin for his or her player, the caddie will first take the pin out of the hole, to make sure this can’t happen, and then reset the bottom of the pin against the bottom of the liner, but not fully engaged in its depression.

I doubt the PGA Tour would ever accept this new coronavirus rule. Perhaps we’ll see when the canceled Tour tournaments are back in business. Why? You could get into some heated arguments about whether or not a ball hit the liner or not. It would be like in tennis, arguing about whether or not the ball hit the boundary line. At least in golf, prior to the Coronavirus Era, there has never been any argument about whether or not the ball fell into the hole for a hole-out. But now there is!


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