Golf Tournament Best Practices for COVID-19 Safety
12 May 2020
by Pete Wlodkowski of AmateurGolf.com

“You may take it from me that there are two kinds of golf. There is golf and tournament golf, and they are not at all the same.” -- Bobby Jones

At AmateurGolf.com, keeping in touch with golf tournaments is at the core of what we do. We constantly communicate with tournament directors and associations, in order to provide our members with the most accurate information. Lately, it hasn’t been as much about the “when, where and how to enter” as much as cancellations and postponements.

But as golf went from less than 50% for courses opened in the U.S. to more than 75% by mid-May, the news has gotten much brighter for the competitive game. And as we’ve reported in our Return of the State Amateur story, the tide has shifted away from the majors -- that require travel and hosted lodging -- and towards events that are closer to home. I’ve already played in one, a Torrey Pines Men’s Club single-day event on May 3. And I’ve been in touch with two events that played in late April.

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Given my twenty years of experience running the website, and events of our own (including a major destination event at Bandon Dunes) I decided to put forth a guide to running golf tournaments in the Post-COVID-19 world. It is my hope that players and tournament organizers will continue to provide us with information on what works for them, so we can keep the dialog going and return to competing -- not just playing -- a very safe game. I can’t remember who said it, but if you’re six feet away from someone in golf, you’re risking getting hit in the head by a golf club!


If your tournament hasn’t moved to online registration, this is an excellent time to do so. Payment is actually easier for a tournament in the "no touch" world than it is for normal golf. If you run a 36-hole tournament, over two days, you only have to collect once and my guess is that 75% of tournaments take online registrations already. But most of these still allow payment by check. Now is the time to eliminate that and require online registration only.

Benefits: You’ll reduce the amount of touch-points, make players more confident that your event is really going to happen (and that they have recourse with their credit card company if it cancels) as well as making it easier to put registrations into a scoring system like Golf Genius.

Here are several options for online registration:

Golf Genius
Online registration via credit card is an integral part of their premium product. So if you've been looking for a reason to upgrade, this is it. If you use their software (especially if you have the premium version) this is the way to go. Your registered players will already be in the tournament field, ready to put into pairing groups and score.

E-Commerce or POS System
Many tournaments run by public or private courses simply take online payments within their point-of-sale or e-commerce platform. It gets the job done, especially if the platform used has an event module or the ability to add fields to collect handicap, age, and other tournament-specific info.

Square, Stripe, or PayPal
These payment platforms are perfect for anyone that doesn't have a merchant account to accept credit cards. Signing up is simple, and most offer form tools to allow you to collect basic registrant data. But a combination of one of these platforms with JotForm (see below) or a similar product allows you to collect more data and work with it easier.

If your club or tournament isn't in a position to pay for software, I recommend JotForm. Even though we have our own registration software at AmateurGolf.com, we often use JotForm to create quick and easy online forms that work well on computers, tablets, or phones. JotForm has credit card processing integrated into all of their plans. I suggest the Silver plan at $39/month -- you will need a PayPal, Stripe, or Merchant account to process the payment.

These providers allow you to accept all types of credit and debit cards. You could use Venmo or PayPal, however that would require your players to have an account and it will be tough to get 100% online participation that way. The fees are in the 3-5% range.


If you have played golf during the pandemic you know that while the raised cups and putting with the flagstick in get most of the attention, not having bunker rakes and taking one club length relief from footprints is also pretty weird. So I'm going to float an idea and a new golf acronym that I hope will take hold, PBR. (USGA are you listening?) It's not the beer I'm referring to. It's the Personal Bunker Rake. I've already got my own, a cool old-school wooden deal I bought for the golf room years ago.

But you shouldn't have to bring your own to a tournament. What if every tournament player was provided with a sanitized rake to put into their bag? I called Sam Vance at Wittek Golf Supply -- the leading provider of golf course operational equipment -- to discuss the idea.

"Great minds think alike," said Vance when I told him my idea. "We were just discussing that in the office."

As it turns out, his company has an inventory of 1400 wood rakes with painted handles in 48" which is just a little longer than a driver. They also have 800 aluminum rakes, in 54". Aluminum would be easiest to sanitize, but the painted wood should be fine as well. The rakes come in boxes of 12 for $78 (wood) and $87 (aluminum).

Economy Bunker Rake at Wittek Golf

A golf course could purchase these to use for events. Because here's the thing - if you thought players did a poor job raking bunkers prior to the pandemic, what do you think sand traps are going to look like over the next 6-12 months -- even in golf tournaments? Many players are going to choose their safety over the next player's bunker lie.

Purchasing personal rakes won't completely solve the problem, and I still think committees should put a local rule in effect allowing one club length relief from footprints and related damage (not plugged or bad lies). And even if you don't have personal rakes, you could keep your bunkers in tour-quality shape during tournaments by doing what Southwick GM Tony Byerly did during the Graham City Championship, one of the only tournaments played in April of 2020.

Related: Is this the only amateur golf tournament being played this April?

"We had a member of the maintenance crew follow groups around in a cart raking bunkers," said Byerly in a recent Tournament Talk podcast.

That's the kind of attention to detail that your players will appreciate. In the last round, when leaders have been repaired, there is no reason the outcome should be effected by a preferred lie in a bunker. Eliminate the need to take one, and the tournament can be run closer to normal.


When I first started AmateurGolf.com, running a "Tour" was a bigger part of our business than it is now. I couldn't for the life of me understand why it made sense to run threesomes instead of foursomes for individual stroke play events. That's 25% less revenue over the same amount of time, I figured. But the fact is that tournament golf flows like lava with foursomes, unless a very strict pace of play policy is enforced or the course is very forgiving.

I changed my mind on that long before I heard of COVID-19. We don't do it all the time, but whenever possible we do 1st and 10th tee starts with an 84 player field limit. In the post-COVID-19 world, reduced field sizes make sense on a number of levels. Cart availability, as discussed below, is just one of those.


It appears that single-rider carts are going to be with us for a while. But most courses don't have enough carts to accommodate a full field event. To avoid the added expense (and possible availability issues) of golf cart rental, you'll want to think about prioritizing carts for those who need them most, starting with seniors or anyone with a physical handicap. It's something you should ask about in the online registration process so you'll know who wants to ride and you can plan accordingly.


I played golf on March 19, right before San Diego courses closed, with cups raised above ground level. I didn't enjoy putting very much that day. If your course has no choice but to use raised cups (perhaps due to municipal requirements) then I suggest a one foot circle be painted around them for tournament day, as I saw a course in the UK implement. If your ball hits the cup, and stays within the circle, it is deemed to be holed.

A far better option, and one that seems to be commonplace now for everyday play, is to have partially submerged cups. This avoids touch-points because a simple "two finger extraction" (the TFE, what the heck) can allow you to retrieve your ball without touching anything. Byerly, the GM of Southwick GC, used cut-off styrofoam pool noodles to accomplish this. Other courses flip the cups upside down - depending on the brand and flagstick system this works equally well. Whatever you do, it won't effect play very much -- in 36 holes I didn't see one member of my foursome at Torrey Pines get an unfair break. But Jordan Spieth, playing in the Maridoe Invitatonal, did have an obvious fly-in ace rejected when it bounced off the pool noodle into the water in front of the green. Ouch.


Did the USGA know something when they changed the rules to allow the flagstick to be left in on the putting green? Whether you like it or not, it's certainly less of a shock to use the flagstick on putts. Of course, tournaments should require this until golf courses deem it is safe to remove the pin. Like getting groceries delivered at home, the forced implementation of this rule will lead some people to play golf this way all the time. The only time it has bugged me is when putting a windy three footer and literally seeing the flagstick swirl around in the bottom of the cup. I decided to use the old putting adage "miss 'em quick" and just get up and knock those testers into the flag, moving or not.


Another thing that is likely to accelerate due to the pandemic is the use of electronic scoring. The gold standard for this is Golf Genius, because it's likely that you are already using the free (to USGA member clubs) or premium version of their software. If you're doing pairings, and entering scores in Golf Genius, you'll want to turn on the live scoring feature and provide players with a GGID (another acronym, I know!) so they can enter their scores on their phone. I spoke to Golf Genius CEO Mike Zisman about what he's seeing, and it's clearly been good for their business and customers.

"Our customers are innovating for us," said Zisman."They're using our product to build online pro shops, online grocery stores, online tee sheets, and to do live scoring."

Zisman, an IBM executive turned golf software entrepreneur, told me about new Golf Genius features that make tons of sense for tournament organizers during the pandemic, including allowing players to make their own tee time and pairing group. It's called Open Tee Sheet. Making your own group for a tournament is another way to keep a close social circle. And why not? I've always believed that players should be able to request a pairing for the first round, but it can be hard to manage all the special requests. Open Tee Sheet solves that problem. And using a handheld device to enter scores is a heck of a lot easier than the scoring systems on cart GPS screens.

If you don't want to use Golf Genius, there are other standalone systems like VPAR that provide the service, for a fee. Or you can do what Tony Byerly did at the Graham City - he put scorecards on the individual carts and "pre-switched" them by asking players to get into the cart with another member of their group's scorecard. After the round, he setup a social distancing friendly group of tables near his cart barn, and had players agree on scores from a safe distance. At Maridoe in Dallas, they simply had players take a picture of their scorecard and text it to the tournament director. I love that combination of old and new school technology. At Torrey Pines, our Men's Club emails a PDF of the scorecard "file" so you can pick the page yours is on, and print it in advance to eliminate handing out cards and the multiple touch-points that brings into play.


Many basic services that players are used to will be slow to return. Food and Beverage service, multiple people in the clubhouse or pro shop (if either is open to players at all) mean that you need to communicate with players what to expect before they arrive for their tee times. And speaking of which, there is no way I would even think about running a shotgun format tournament right now. By nature, these are group gatherings.

Even the double tee start increases the number of players on the driving range at one time (if the range is open at all). And what to do in case of a rain delay? With no possibility of sheltering in the clubhouse, the best option may be for players to shelter individually in their cars, with communication on restarting delivered electronically.

Organizers: I hope that you have found this guide informative. I would love to hear about what you are doing to make your tournament safe and competitive at the same time. Please use our contact us page to get in touch -- I promise to reply to each and every person who takes the time to send information. This will be a dynamic story where we add the best ideas. Tournament golf can be just as safe as everyday golf, while providing us the respite we need. The service provided by the tournament committee and volunteers has never been more important.

Players: please be kind to your fellow players, and thank your tournament organizers for allowing you to compete. Now more than ever, we should focus on enjoying the competition, and the hard work of volunteers (especially the unpaid rules officials) who could be playing golf themselves instead of watching us grind it out for par.

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