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Spring Primer on Rules, Course Care and Handicapping April 13, 2021 | Liberty Corner, N.J. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Repairing ball marks on greens is an important practice for every golfer to follow, alleviating extra work for the maintenance staff. (Chris Keane/USGA) 

As the calendar turns to April, lots of us are putting Old Man Winter in the rearview mirror. The anticipation of that first round of the season is palpable, but spring golf presents a series of minor challenges. From knowing when we can officially post scores for handicap purposes to evolving course conditions, here are some tips for golfers who are preparing to kick off the season: 

Handicapping tips

Playing under preferred lies: The course may adopt a Local Rule for preferred lies (lift, clean and place) if warranted. This Local Rule should be limited in duration and decided on a daily basis. Scores made while the Local Rule for preferred lies is in effect must be posted for handicap purposes – unless score-posting has been temporarily suspended. Check with the course before teeing off. If a player chooses to adopt preferred lies on their own, their score should still be posted for handicap purposes. However, keep in mind that frequent use of preferred lies can result in a Handicap Index® that is too low.

Temporary tees/greens in use: If temporary tees and/or greens are in use, check with the pro shop to see if a temporary Course Rating™ and Slope Rating™ have been provided by the local Allied Golf Association. If no temporary rating has been provided, a score for handicap purposes of net par must be recorded on each hole where temporary tees or greens are in use. Net par is equal to par of the hole plus any handicap strokes the player is entitled to receive on the hole based on their Course Handicap. However, at least 7 holes must be played with permanent tees/greens for a 9-hole score to be acceptable for handicap purposes and at least 14 holes must be played with permanent tees/greens for an 18-hole score to be acceptable.

Recently aerated greens: Unless the Handicap Committee decides to temporarily suspend score posting due to poor putting surfaces, go ahead and putt it out. The use of an “automatic two-putt” is not acceptable for handicap purposes.

You can check whether the season is active in your state here. If you don’t yet have a Handicap Index, visit and contact your local AGA – they are the best resource to get you set up quickly!

Caring for the Course

As golfers, we should always be doing our part to help care for the courses we play on, but it can be especially important in springtime. Many superintendents have been operating with reduced budgets and fewer staff members, so a little extra effort on our part could make a big impact. Here are some ways we can help:

Repair ball marks: If you repair your ball mark and a couple of others with the proper technique, you’ll be doing everyone a favor.

Repair your divots:Repairing our divots correctly is another easy way to make a difference. Improperly repaired divots can take months to heal – if they ever fully heal at all.

Follow cart rules:We all know that golf carts can damage a course if they aren’t used properly. Follow the rules and keep carts on paths as much as possible – it will make a big difference.

Smooth the sand:Many courses removed rakes to reduce touchpoints. A bad lie in a bunker is not the end of the world, but if we can do our best to smooth footprints and other disturbances with a club or our feet it will reduce the number of tough spots for everyone.

Rules: Aeration holes

If you play in the spring, chances are you’ve encountered aerated turf at some point. The process helps to relieve the compaction caused by traffic and creates a firmer, smoother surface by promoting healthy turf roots. But what if your ball ends up in one of the aeration holes? Here is what you need to know.

Do I get relief?

While the situation isn’t directly addressed in the Rules of Golf, there is a Local Rule that essentially treats aeration holes as ground under repair. If that Local Rule is in effect and your ball comes to rest in or on an aeration hole on the putting green, you can place the ball at your nearest point of complete relief, which will be nearby since you only get relief for the lie of the ball, not if your stance is on an aeration hole.

What if my ball is in an aeration hole in the fairway or rough?

If the Local Rule is in effect and your ball ends up in or on an aeration hole in the general area (which includes the fairway and the rough), you still get free relief, but you must drop your ball instead of placing it. You can drop within one club-length of the nearest point of complete relief, but you are limited to staying in the general area and not going closer to the hole.

Who decides if the Local Rule is in effect?

If you’re playing in a tournament, the call is made by the individual or committee running the competition. If you’re playing a recreational round, it’s up to whomever is running the course, such as the head pro or superintendent.

What if my ball ends up near an aeration plug?

If your ball is adjacent to a clump of dirt removed as part of the aeration process, the plugs are loose impediments. That means they can be moved, like leaves or twigs. But you do need to be careful – if your ball moves in the process of removing the plugs, you get one penalty stroke in the general area (and no penalty on the green). In both cases, replace your ball in its original position.

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