Making sure every stroke counts

Before they get to roam the course, rules officials must pass rigorous training

Posted 7/10/17

They drive around the golf course in carts and get good views of the action.

They are the rules officials who volunteer at the various levels of golf, both professional and amateur.

And while some golfers would rather not see them, officials …

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Making sure every stroke counts

Before they get to roam the course, rules officials must pass rigorous training

Posted

They drive around the golf course in carts and get good views of the action.

They are the rules officials who volunteer at the various levels of golf, both professional and amateur.

And while some golfers would rather not see them, officials say they are not out to marshal players — just to help them follow the rules.

“We can’t run a tournament without rules officials because their job is to enforce the rules of golf and provide assistance to those golfers who do not know the rules and decisions on the rules of golf,” said Laura Robertson, executive director of the Colorado Women’s Golf Association.

“Rules officials are there to help. We’re not there as a police force trying to find rules violations.”

Workshops, seminars, tests and ride-alongs are among the training that takes a number of years for volunteers before becoming certified United States Golf Association-certified rules officials.

Tom Kennedy, a retired Colorado Springs district judge, is a USGA chief rules official and said of the tutoring, “I hadn’t studied this hard since I took the bar exam 48 years ago. They made me work to become a certified rules official.”

It’s demanding to be a rules administrator since there are 34 rules of golf, but every two years a large book is published concerning decisions on the rules. That’s to help clarify any ambiguity that might arise from the rules to allow rules officials to correctly interpret the rules.

“You not only have to master the rules but understand the decisions,” Kennedy said. “Sometimes you have to use a judgment call. I’m used to making decisions, but I want it to be in a positive way.

“I’ve made a lot of decisions sending people to prison for a very long time and those were never fun decisions. The decisions we are making out here on the golf course are to help educate the players. So if they make a mistake on the rule, they won’t make it a second time.”

Brad Wiesley, a lawyer who lives near Indian Tree Golf Club in Arvada, is another chief rules official.

“None of us like when a penalty is involved,” he said. “Some people think the rules official is handing out penalties. We never do that. The penalty is because of the rules of golf.

“The reasons there are so many decisions is because golfers find interesting situations to get into. Sometimes there is not a decision to cover exactly what happened. So you have to do some interpretations. Similar situations are treated alike.”

There are many rules that might be misinterpreted or broken. And golfers have a knack for getting themselves in odd — and sometimes, truly hazardous — situations.

Rules official Sandy Schnitzer recalls that twice in the past few years a ball has landed on mating snakes.

It happened once at Riverdale Dunes in Brighton, she said, when a tee shot on a par 3 landed on top of two bull snakes. The other time was at Murphy Creek in Aurora and rattlesnakes were the landing spot for a ball. Those were deemed “dangerous situations” and the golfers were allowed to move the ball without a penalty.

Wiesley recalls a situation in which a player hit a ball near a tree by the green with a nest of swarming wasps. As with the snake situations, the golfer was allowed to move the ball without penalty.

But most rulings aren’t as dramatic.

“The junior tournaments, I find, give you the most rulings because a lot of times the younger people don’t know enough,” said rules official Andrew Snyder, of Greenwood Village. “It’s a learning experience for them and for us.”

Colorado Golf Association Executive Director Ed Mate says advice other than public information — like yardage, hazards and where the flagstick is located — can be a violation.

“Probably the rule that gets broken a lot of times unwittingly is advice, anything you say to somebody that can influence their play,” Mate said. “Like I noticed something in your swing or boy that breeze sure is blowing hard. Things like that. There’s a line that you have to be really careful about.”

Schnitzer, an Erie resident, has seen many golfers puzzled by water.

“Golfers sometimes get confused over the relief they can take from a direct water hazard and lateral water hazard,” she said.

Competitive golfers are used to dealing with rules and generally accept the decisions.

“Most golfers know the rules and understand the rules are there to treat everybody playing in the event with equality,” Wiesley said. “Every once in a while people get frustrated when things don’t go the way they intend them to go. That can happen, but it is pretty rare. You understand somebody is frustrated. They are not mad at you personally.”

Jack Tickle, a junior-to-be at Arapahoe High School, is a promising junior golfer who isn’t intimidated when he sees a rules official watching.

“They don’t much get involved unless we ask — and they are helpful,” Tickle said. “I’ve never really had one say ‘I don’t know what that ruling is.’ They always know. They don’t help unless we ask. They let us play.”

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