DQ for touching flags? How England Golf adapted the rules at the Amatuer Championships

What do the Rules of Golf look like at the Amateur Championships? Steve Carroll went to see how England Golf are coping with coronavirus

It’s rakes for bunkers and the ultimate sanction for players who just can’t stop touching the flagstick – welcome to the Covid-19 Rules of Golf at an elite championship.

England Golf kicked off their 2020 tournament season with the English men’s and women’s amateur championships at Woodhall Spa this week and have adapted their Code of Conduct, adopted as a Local Rule, to meet with the realities of playing golf while coronavirus is still prevalent.

Your club may be telling you not to touch the flag, but players who can’t – or refuse to – get out of the habit at England Golf events this summer could find themselves being disqualified as tournament chiefs look to keep everyone safe.

“We’ve updated our Code of Conduct policy, which generally covers normal issues that can arise on the golf course but we’ve added in some Covid-19 procedures,” Toby Thorne, England Golf’s deputy championship director, tells NCG.

“If a player touches the flagstick the Code would kick in. It’s a warning to start with.

“We don’t want to penalise someone if it’s just an accidental touching and it would be unfair to give out a two-shot penalty.

“But if they are warned and then do it again, then they would incur a [two-shot] penalty and if there’s obviously a persistent or a serious deliberate breach of that Code of Conduct they could be looking at disqualification.”

The Code advises the flagstick can be centred in the hole with a putter – “in a safe manner that does not involve using the hand, even when wearing a glove or using a towel” – and the regulation was effective when the tournament’s first day was marked by gusty winds. The centring of the flagstick is allowed while another player putts.

And while demanding players abide by social distancing guidelines, a regulation that can also be enforced by issuing penalties, the championship committee resisted allowing preferred lies in bunkers for this week’s showpiece events.

Players instead must hire a rake, or bring their own, to ensure the sand remains an intrinsic challenge.

England Golf

Thorne adds: “Rather than introducing any Local Rule for bunkers – we didn’t feel for a championship it was worthy of introducing preferred lies or making bunkers GUR – part of the whole process was to make sure that every competitor rents a rake for the week.

“Some have actually brought their own, which is good, but we’ve been renting out these portable rakes for a small hire charge, which they get back when they return the rake.

“If they want to keep the rake, they’ve paid for it. That’s been good too – so that we can have the bunkers in operation and the players are obviously encouraged to rake when they’ve played from it.”

He continued: “We’ve all seen that a preferred lie option in a bunker is getting everyone to be quite expert at playing bunker shots because you get a great lie every time you go in a bunker.

“We didn’t want to get into that situation. Bunkers are operating as usual and players are taking responsibility with these very lightweight portable rakes.”

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What do you think of England Golf’s approach? Should rakes be back in operation? Should you be able to touch the flagstick again? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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