Golf courses have been getting creative in trying to provide a safe environment for players to use the course. That means spacing out tee times, encouraging space between players and limiting the number of shared surfaces players can touch.
Many courses are coming up with creative ways to cut holes so that the golf ball doesn't go all the way to the bottom of the cup, when it is technically holed once it's at rest. In an effort to get players to not touch cups or flagsticks, some courses are cutting holes and then leaving the cup slightly out of the ground -- maybe an inch or so -- so that the ball won't go in the hole.
At courses doing this, the local rule has been that once a player's ball has made contact with the protruding cup, the ball is considered holed.
Naturally, because we can't have nice things, some golfers have been concerned that this modus operandi is violating the Rules of Golf, thus rendering any rounds played at this time as illegitimate and not able to be posted for handicap purposes.
The USGA has been listening, and they issued guidance on March 20 that loosens the traditional Rules of Golf.
In a statement, the USGA said, "From the perspective of the Rules of Handicapping, the most frequent questions received are primarily related to the acceptability of scores for posting to a player’s scoring record. In particular, relating to modifying the hole and not requiring the player to 'hole out' as required under the Rules of Golf. These are founded in a desire to minimize the possibility of exposing golfers to [unsafe surfaces] and have included leaving the hole liner raised above the putting surface or placing various objects into the hole so the ball can be more easily removed.
"In these specific cases, provided guidance from health and governmental officials is being followed, a temporary measure is in place within the United States to accept scores played under these conditions for handicap purposes using the most likely score guidelines, even though the player has not holed out.
"This temporary measure is now in effect within the United States until advised otherwise by the USGA."
That's great news for golfers who were concerned they were playing the game dishonestly. The USGA has wanted to offer some flexibility in the Rules, and they did that in the new rulebook issued in 2019. Now, they've issued guidance that is fluid with the times.