Guidance Aligns with the Golf Industry-Wide BACK2GOLF OPERATIONAL PLAYBOOK

UPDATE: MAY 18, 2020

The guidance below supplements the “Back2Golf Operational Playbook,” an industry-wide initiative by the USGA, PGA of America, National Golf Course Owners Association, Golf Course Superintendents Association, Club Managers Association, and the LPGA Tour and PGA TOUR. To review the Back2Golf Operational Playbook, click here.

Initial rules-related guidance was originally released on March 20, 2020 (click here to view) by the USGA in response to questions received from golf course owners, administrators, tournament organizers and golfers as to how the Rules of Golf and Rules of Handicapping apply. This document provides updates to that initial document.

Its intended purpose is to help golf course operators and administrators, as well as golfers, better understand how the Rules of Golf and Rules of Handicapping apply to the various questions we have received. We encourage all operators and golfers to read the Back2Golf guidelines, follow state, county and local government policies first and foremost, and ultimately practice social distancing for the benefit of all involved.

This Rules of Golf and Rules of Handicapping information provides guidance related to four main topics:


Many options are described below as it relates to how bunkers, flagsticks and the hole are addressed and each of these options is likely to have a different effect on scoring. As noted in each section below, certain options provide a committee with discretion to count the resulting scores for handicap purposes, while other options do not.

For example, in normal conditions players rarely encounter an unkept bunker during a competition. However, if bunker rakes are removed, this could lead to undesirable outcomes even if players in previous groups are being mindful to smooth the sand with their feet after playing from that bunker.

There are also a number of options available to a committee running a competition in Phase 2 to ensure that the key principles of scoring are adhered to while also being mindful to minimize the possibility of exposing players to coronavirus.

There is no single “right way” forward in the current environment, rather it is recommended committees consider the options and select what they think will work best for them given their own unique circumstances.

It is generally understood that Phase 1 of the Back2Golf playbook addresses how to apply strict social distancing measures; Phase 2 provides interim guidance on continued social distancing but with fewer restrictions on group sizes; and Phase 3 is a return to golf with limited restrictions as noted in the playbook. This guidance is intended to guide clubs playing golf in Phases 1 and 2, noting that competitions should only begin during Phase 2.


It is a normal part of the game to place a responsibility on all players to smooth sand in a bunker from which they have played. Committees have many options as to how to treat bunkers, which are largely dependent on the resources available.

  • In some cases, a committee may decide their best option is to remove all bunker rakes from the course. When this is done, it is possible for a player’s ball to come to rest in an unmaintained area of sand.
    • At minimum, it would be advisable to encourage players to try their best to smooth the disturbed area with a foot or a club after playing their ball from a bunker.
    • If you require cart use or most players at your course use a golf cart, the best approach might be to assign a rake to every golf cart, allowing players to operate as normal.
  • An additional option includes changing the status of bunkers to be part of the general area. This would give players additional options under multiple relief rules (Rules 16 and 19) and would remove the restrictions normally in effect under Rule 12.
    • Ground under repair could be used in two different manners. The first being to declare all bunkers to be ground under repair and treat them as part of the general area. This would allow players the option to take free relief outside the bunker under Rule 16.1. The second is to treat disturbed areas only as ground under repair. This would still allow a player free relief from such areas, but would require such relief to be taken elsewhere within the bunker.
    • As a last resort, a committee may add a preferred lies Local Rule that would allow a player to place the ball elsewhere in a bunker without penalty (such as within one club-length of where the ball came to rest). While that may seem like a good option in that it requires players to play from the bunker, there will be times when no effective relief would be available to a player, such as when a bunker is frequently played from and large areas are unraked. It would be recommended that the other options, such as those listed above, are considered first, noting that using the ground under repair options above ensure a player will get full relief and, when dropping from knee height, balls very rarely plug.
  • If a committee wishes for bunkers to be maintained, additional options include:
    • Make golf carts mandatory and supply a bunker rake to every player. The bunker rake handle must be cleansed prior to use on the golf cart. Each player may then use that rake after playing a stroke from a bunker.
    • Have one person walk with every group who is dedicated to raking bunkers for the group. This individual would be the only person who uses the bunker rake.
    • Leave all rakes on the course and provide every player with a container of cleansing wipes that would be used to disinfect the rake prior to and after each use.
  • If a committee takes any of the above actions, it is at the discretion of the committee whether scores would be acceptable for handicap purposes.


The flagstick serves an important purpose in the game of golf –an indicator to a player as to where the hole is located on the putting green or a target for shots.

While the options for recreational play and competition are the same, some are more likely than others to alter how the game is normally played (such as removing all flagsticks from the course) while others are resource-intensive (such as having staff, a forecaddie or a volunteer stationed at each putting green and attending for all players over a day of recreational golf or during a competition).

  • In recreational play, a committee may wish to introduce temporary guidelines that are not normally considered, including:
    • In deciding to set-up a golf course without flagsticks, consideration should be given as to how best to support golfers by providing players the location of each hole on the green, whether this is general guidance (such as in the right front portion) or through a detailed hole-location sheet.
    • As another means of minimizing exposure to players, a committee might decide to introduce a Code of Conduct that prohibits players from touching or removing the flagstick. As is authorized under Rule 1.2b, such a Code could also include penalties (such as one penalty stroke or the general penalty) if a player is in breach of its standards.
      • Before a committee decides to introduce such a restriction, it is recommended that consideration be given to the fact that removing the flagstick is an instinctual, even automated, act for many players. Drafting such a Code of Conduct to restrict only deliberate acts to affect the outcome of the hole would be reflective of that reality and would mean that a player who instinctually removes the flagstick would not get a penalty in doing so.
  • During a competition, giving players the option to leave the flagstick in the hole or have it attended and removed are parts of the game. It should be noted that requiring one action or the other may advantage one player by fitting his or her normal routine while disadvantaging another who is forced to alter his or her habits. While the below options require additional  resources, they preserve this part of the game while also seeking minimizing the risk of exposure.
  • If a committee wishes for the flagstick Rule to operate as normal, the following alternatives could be considered. In all such cases, the committee should provide cleansing wipes and a waste receptacle near each putting green to assist players and caddies in carrying out these actions, in accordance with both the Back2Golf playbook and state/local guidelines.
    • One player or caddie in each group should be responsible for holding, attending, removing, and/or replacing the flagstick on each hole as they move through the round.
    • Allow any player or caddie to handle the flagstick but anyone who does touch the flagstick must wipe it down prior to and after such removal.
    • Identify an individual who is dedicated to handling flagstick removal, attendance, and replacement on each putting green (this could be course or competition staff, a forecaddie or a volunteer). That identified individual would be the only person who should touch the flagstick at the request of every player in the competition. This could be drafted as a guideline only or it could be included in a Code of Conduct that could also include penalties for any breach (such as one penalty stroke or the general penalty).
  • If a committee takes any of the above actions, it is at the discretion of the committee whether scores would be acceptable for handicap purposes.

Special case for modified flagsticks

  • A committee may temporarily decide to use a flagstick that has added a movable tray, platform or a similar attachment to help prevent touching the surface of the flagstick to retrieve the ball from the hole.
  • Such flagsticks with non-constrained attachments such as movable trays, platforms, or similar attachments to aid in removing a ball from the hole, whether the device is incorporated with or added to the flagstick, do not meet the requirements of Part 8, Section 1 of the Equipment Rules.
  • However, if a committee decides to use a flagstick that does not meet the Equipment Rules to minimize the possibility of exposing players to coronavirus, a temporary measure is in place to permit scores played under this condition to be acceptable for handicap purposes while such modifications are in use. This measure is in effect within the United States until advised otherwise by the USGA.
  • Playing a round at a course where flagsticks do not meet the Equipment Rules are not normally acceptable for handicap purposes, and use of such flagsticks after the temporary measures are no longer in effect will mean that all rounds played on a course using such flagsticks will not be valid for handicap purposes.


To minimize the possibility of exposing golfers to coronavirus, a number of methods have been employed to modify the hole so that players no longer need to reach into the hole to remove a ball.

These have included some courses setting holes so that the hole-liner remains an inch or two above the surface of the green while others have placed various objects into the hole or around the flagstick (such as foam pool noodles or plastic piping) so that a ball is unable to fall to the bottom.

While all of these measures are available to a committee, it is important to note that with some options the ball cannot be holed under the Rules of Golf, such as when the hole-liner is above the surface of the putting green. While these may serve the needs of a course hosting recreational play, these are not recommended for competition.

Alternatives for both recreational play and competition that allow the ball to be holed include placing inserts into the hole that sit below the surface of the putting green and allow the ball to come to rest on the insert in the hole, either entirely or partially below the surface of the green.

In all cases, a round played under these conditions will result in an acceptable score for handicap purposes using the most likely score guidelines (see Rule 3.3 of the Rules of Handicapping).

While the most likely score procedure is intended to support certain formats of play where the player is not required to hole out (such as in match play when the player’s next stroke is conceded or in Four-Ball stroke play when a partner picks up), it is also temporarily in effect where the above described safety measures are being used. Note:  Improper application of most likely score may result in lower scores. It is important for players to apply the procedure consistently and accurately to protect the integrity of their Handicap Index.

When using most likely score, the player should consider the number of strokes most likely required to complete the hole, and determine whether the ball would have been holed or not.  Most likely score is at the player's best judgment and should not be used to gain an unfair advantage.   



Committees have a number of options available when trying to minimize the possibility of exposing players to coronavirus through the handling of scorecards.

  • For each of the options below, the committee should consider how best to limit common touch points and ensure that social distancing is maintained at all times.
  • When physical scorecards are used, care should be exercised to ensure they are given out in a responsible manner that minimizes risk. Alternatively, the committee could send a printable scorecard to players and ask them to print it before arriving at the course.
  • If circumstances will not allow for social distancing, facial cloth coverings and sanitizer should be made available and used by all players and any other individuals present (such as the scoring official, the walking scorer, a referee, or any caddies).

Electronic Scoring

  • As part of the 2019 modernization of the Rules, the use of physical scorecards is no longer required. Everything can be done electronically, including the player and his or her marker certifying hole-by-hole scores and returning those scores to the committee.
  • Because of this, a committee may find electronic scoring to be the easiest option to ensure each player’s hole-by-hole scores are received and that both the player and his or her marker certify those scores.
  • Specialized software is not required as this can be accomplished by text or email. For example:
    • The marker would email or text the hole-by-hole scores to the player and the committee (this could even be done by taking a picture of a scorecard if that is where the scores were kept).
    • This email or text would serve as the marker’s certification.
    • If the player agrees with the scores, he or she would only need to reply to certify the scores.
    • If changes need to be made, the text or email chain would simply need to reflect which hole scores need to be changed, with the player and marker again agreeing (that is, certifying) the revised hole-by-hole scores.
    • If a committee plans to use this method, all players should be provided instructions in their pre-arrival communication.
  • When electronic scoring methods are used, the committee should clarify when the scorecard is considered returned (this means, when no additional alterations may be made).
    • To do so, the committee could continue to have a physical scoring area where players will complete the electronic process (such as, the roped off area outside the clubhouse). When the player leaves the scoring area, the scorecard is considered returned and no further alterations may be made.
    • The committee could also simply state that once the player has certified the scores as submitted by the marker, the scorecard is returned.

Physical Scorecards

  • If physical scorecards are the preferred method to keep a record of hole-by-hole scores, the committee may wish to alter traditional methods slightly to limit shared touch points and ensure social distancing is maintained.
    • At the conclusion of the round, the marker would ensure he or she has entered the player’s hole-by-hole scores, sign the scorecard and set it down on a surface such that the player could visually inspect the hole-by-hole score to confirm their accuracy. Once this is done, rather than signing the scorecard, the player can verbally certify the accuracy of the scores in the presence of the marker and the scoring official.
    • If there are any errors that need to be corrected, the marker can make changes before the player verbally certifies those changes are accurate.
  • If the committee plans to uses a more traditional method of scoring (such as having the marker give the scorecard to the player for his or her review), facial cloth coverings and sanitizer should be made available and used by all players and any other individuals who are present.

The above guidance will continue to be updated. If you have any questions or concerns, you can contact the Rules of Golf and Rules of Handicapping departments using the information below:

Rules of Golf Department

Handicapping Department
908-234-2300 Ext. 5