Published by : Stuart McLean - 20 March 2020

Golf clubs have been issued with lengthy directives about how to operate during the coronavirus, and one of the more curious suggestions is that golfers avoid touching the flagstick. I’m sure this will suit those golfers I know who seldom used to remove it from the hole or replace it anyway, yet this could have ramifications.

The late English golf writer Peter Dobereiner titled one of his books “The Game with the Hole in it.” Well that wasn’t the case yesterday in the Thursday competition at Bryanston Country Club. The holes in the greens were hidden from view by a raised plastic liner, and it was no longer a condition of play to hole out. All you needed to do to complete a hole was ensure that your golf ball touched the liner.

Golfers at Bryanston putt to a plastic liner around the flagstick.

It certainly makes scoring simpler. I watched a golfer attempt a long putt on one green. The ball was travelling quickly and would have gone a few metres past the hole, but fortuitously it clipped the edge of the liner and his playing partners delightedly praised him for holing out for a par!

I can see that club professionals are quickly going to be cancelling the “Two-Club” if this becomes the norm. We’re going to see remarkable betterball and alliance scores in competitions. As for handicaps, golfers who putt accurately should be careful about posting too many low scores. They will be hurt when we return to normal.

Some golf clubs are insisting that the holes remain but the flagsticks are not removed. Yet golfers will be touching the base of the flagstick in order to remove their golf balls.

Golfers might think they are in a state of nirvana right now. Several Gauteng clubs have removed rakes from bunkers, in case they are contaminated, so golfers are no longer required to clean up after tramping around in the sand. Spare caddies have been commissioned to rove around the course with a rake in hand, looking for work.

The duties of caddies have been much reduced, whereupon golfers might ask what is the point of having one. Some clubs are insisting that players provide the caddies with a pull cart, and they are not allowed to handle a player’s clubs. And they don’t have to rake bunkers. One club told its members that caddies may not even make contact with a player’s sandbag, towel or even the golf ball! All the caddie therefore has to do is pull the bag around and let the player do all the work.

The one-tee start recommendation is designed to make golf less social on traditional competition days. Shotgun starts are forbidden. We cannot have all those golfers finishing their rounds at the same time and massing around the clubhouse. However, they are really only a favourite of corporate golf days, and these outings are being cancelled left, right and centre.

The one-tee start means there will be no more distinct morning and afternoon fields, with their traditional two-tee starts. Golfers were identified by their preferences: “Yes, he’s strictly a morning golfer.” Morning and afternoon golfers often didn’t even know they were members of the same club. Now they will bump into each other more often. Members will find themselves starting a round at 10am, which means they can’t do much in the morning before the round, and half the afternoon is gone before they are finished. Without any sport to watch on TV though, who cares?

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