Governing Bodies Clarify Covid-19 Golf Competition Rules

Playing in a golf competition soon? Be sure to read what you can and can't do in accordance with the Rules of Golf...

Covid-19 Golf Competition Rules
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Playing in a golf competition soon? Be sure to read what you can and can't do in accordance with the Rules of Golf...

Governing Bodies Clarify Covid-19 Golf Competition Rules

With competitions beginning to return again at club level, the R&A and USGA, the game's governing bodies, have clarified the rules relating to competition golf to ensure that there are no confusions.

There are a number of key points, including that scores can be recorded by players as oppose to markers, preferred lies can be used in bunkers and shots that bounce out of holes are not counted as holed.

Golf has had to make plenty of changes to ensure safety during these Covid-19 times and some of these changes are not quite viable for competition golf.

For example, if a club has raised cups where the ball simply bounces off and is considered holed during social play, it cannot hold competitions.

The R&A and USGA say that the ball must come to rest with some of it below the surface.

Below, we list what you need to know from the latest guidance:


Players can now enter their own scores and it doesn't seem like markers need to sign cards for the time being.

Many clubs will operate electronic scoring systems for competitions and this will mean that scorecards are not physically returned.

Perhaps playing partners will be asked to cast their eye over your physical or digital card and give you a verbal 'yep, that looks fine.'

Clubs will all have their own approaches to this so be sure to see what yours says.


Some clubs could give out penalty strokes if players touch the flagstick, although this is highly unlikely as we are now all so used to not touching them.

Interestingly, the R&A and USGA say that clubs could get rid of their flags altogether. Again, this is highly unlikely but it would be very interesting to see if any club does so.

Flagsticks with snazzy devices to allow balls to be easily retrieved are fully within the rules.

You are allowed to touch the flagstick if it leans over or is off-centre, although you can't use your hand even if you're wearing a glove or holding a towel. Perhaps the best practice is to use your arm or foot.

Hole and Definition of Holed

Hole liners are fully within the rules for competitions to ensure players avoid touching the flagstick.

However, gimmes are not allowed - even though they have been recommended for social play.

Clubs with hole liners that sit above the surface cannot hold competitions, clubs must have holes that allow some of the ball to fall below the surface.

If your ball does fall below the surface but then pops up, tough luck.


Rakes are no longer in use at clubs, with players asked to smooth the sand with your foot or club after hitting. The R&A say that imperfect lies in bunkers is a normal part of the game.

However if the condition of the bunkers due to this is considered unreasonable , the committee does have the power to either declare the bunkers as Ground Under Repair or operate preferred lies in the sand within one club length no nearer to the hole.

Lifting your ball, smoothing the sand and then placing it is against the rules.

Read the full guidance from the R&A and USGA

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Elliott Heath
News Editor

Elliott Heath is our News Editor and has been with Golf Monthly since early 2016 after graduating with a degree in Sports Journalism. He manages the Golf Monthly news team as well as our large Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. He covered the 2022 Masters from Augusta National as well as five Open Championships on-site including the 150th at St Andrews. His first Open was in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, when he walked inside the ropes with Jordan Spieth during the Texan's memorable Claret Jug triumph. He has played 35 of our Top 100 golf courses, with his favourites being both Sunningdales, Woodhall Spa, Western Gailes, Old Head and Turnberry. He has been obsessed with the sport since the age of 8 and currently plays off of a six handicap. His golfing highlights are making albatross on the 9th hole on the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa, shooting an under-par round, playing in the Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour and making his one and only hole-in-one at the age of 15 - a long time ago now!

Elliott is currently playing:

Driver: Titleist TSR4

3 wood: Titleist TSi2

Hybrids: Titleist 816 H1

Irons: Mizuno MP5 5-PW

Wedges: Cleveland RTX ZipCore 50, 54, 58

Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG #5

Ball: Srixon Z Star XV