Ask the Referee: John Paramor
This month it is the turn of John Paramor (Chief Referee on the European Tour) to answer your questions, and to share his vast knowledge and experience of refereeing. In the next Newsletter Andrew Langford-Jones (Chief Referee, PGA Tour Australasia) will be in the “hot seat”, so send your questions for Andrew to firstname.lastname@example.org.
First up though, John Paramor…
How did you get started in refereeing?
Charles Bannan, Scotland
I think I got started when I recognised that I wouldn’t be good enough as a player and the Rules had some sort of fascination for me. I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time as I’d known Peter Butler [European Tour player and 4-time Ryder Cupper] and caddied for him for a season. He was on the Tour’s players committee and knew of the position that was being created as a Rules official and luckily I managed to get the job.
What is your favourite event to referee during the course of the year? Sean Griffin, Ireland
The one where I get every ruling right I think would be the proper answer to give. There are many events that we look forward to on Tour but one in particular for me is the European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre in Switzerland, purely for the venue which has so many happy memories for me. There are always interesting things going on in Crans and it’s a lovely place to be with scenery to die for! I’ve enjoyed going there at least thirty three times in my career doing tournaments and I hope that I continue to go there.
If you have some players that are playing badly, playing a lot of provisional balls and searching for balls, how do you handle those groups, those players? Anke Sutter
There comes a time when we might encourage the players, through further warnings, to try and pick up the pace. There will come a time though when eventually it’s a case of saying, “Sorry lads but we’re going to have to put you on the clock because you’re not improving and you’re unfortunately having a lot of bad luck with some of your shots.” That basically means that they might be hitting a lot of provisional balls and additional shots but they must make sure that they then get it done in the prescribed limits which, as a base, is 40 seconds to make the shot.
What do you carry on the golf course with you when you are refereeing? Sylvia Wright, Australia
I take something to keep warm and dry, but a stopwatch is also essential. I need it for the time but also when I am timing players under our pace of play policy. I check I have an accurate time every morning either with the official time or by telephone to the world clock. I also make sure I have a Rules Book, Decisions Book, a hole repairing kit, dental floss – not for cleaning my teeth but for determining if a ball is out of bounds or in a water hazard, that kind of thing. I also take pencils and pens, a multi-tool, a walkie- talkie radio, sun screen and an air horn.
What has changed the most since you have started your refereeing career? Tony Smith, South Africa
When I first started there were very few full-time tournament players. Easily over half the field were comprised of players who used to play golf tournaments but the other fifty per cent of the time they had another job, be it as a club professional or some other line of work, but they all had, or the vast majority had, other forms of income and other ways of earning their livelihood. That has changed and now we have full-time tour players and that kind of changed during the early eighties. That was the biggest change in terms of what I see and the guys I deal with.
From a referee’s point of view, I suppose professionalism. We have many more referees and we do take it much more seriously. There is now much more detailed preparation prior to an event start.
I think everything throughout the game has improved, from greenkeeping equipment so that golf courses are presented better, and equipment that guys use to play golf with has improved…although some people would say maybe not for the better! Yes, they are hitting it further and straighter than they ever have done and so I suppose that we have to make sure with everything that we do, as a committee in charge of a competition, that we have to take into consideration these improvements when setting up golf courses. So it’s a general development throughout the game.
Your most embarrassing moment? Sam Jones, Wales
I think my most embarrassing moment was once in a social situation asking Carol Semple Thomson if she played golf! Completely forgetting of course that she was the captain of the US Curtis Cup side and had been a top golfer for a very, very long time, playing in the Curtis Cup more than any other golfer [Editor: Carol was also US and British Amateur Champion, and is in the World Golf Hall of Fame]. That was unbelievably embarrassing and thankfully she didn’t bury me but she certainly could have done and bless her for doing that.
How often do you ask for a second opinion? E Munoz, Spain
Not that often. Normally players are quite happy with the ruling…or maybe not [laugh]. They are usually happy to accept the ruling that I have given them but certainly in the cases where I’m not sure I’ll say to the player that “I am not 100% sure on this, if you want a second opinion I don’t mind but this is my answer.” So, if they want a second opinion I have no problem calling for one. It’s not that often, but, yes, it does happen from time to time when it’s a case of determining whether it’s an abnormal ground condition or something of that kind.
If you could change any Rule of Golf what would it be? Gerry Friel, Scotland
The professional tours around the world are almost all covered on television and there are many armchair referees who don’t hesitate to make contact as soon as they see any incident on their TV’s that might appear to be a breach of the Rules. Thankfully, many of these incidents don’t result in any penalty but there are occasions where, because of delayed transmission times, an incident may be hours old and scorecards have already been returned to the committee. The result of this is that any penalty incurred will result in a disqualification of the player. The Tours would much prefer to be able to add the appropriate penalty to a player’s score and avoid the ultimate DQ penalty. However, there are strong views from other parties that say a change of Rule 6-6d in relation to returning a scorecard could lead to a lessening of the responsibility for the player to ensure he returns a correct score card in a timely manner. We hope to persuade those doubters that a DQ penalty is not at all proportionate in many of these cases. [Editor: this subject is being closely looked at by the Rules of Golf Committee that John is a member of.]
Are the Rules too complicated - should there be a policy towards the education of those playing at a competitive level and those commentating on the game? Marc Grimsey
I do get frustrated sometimes when the commentators mislead people in regard to Rules when they make a guess on a ruling rather than either looking it up or asking the Tour’s Rules Team. That happens from time to time and it is frustrating. I suppose with regard to players themselves I am mindful of the fact that the reason they’re asking is for their protection. They know that if they ask for a ruling they can’t possibly get it wrong, there’s no way that they’re going to attract a penalty, so by getting us involved, it’s really their safety net. So even though they’re calling for us they probably do know the answer but they’re just using us for that safety net so they don’t get any sort of penalty.
Would you consider using a different pace of play policy on Tour, e.g. a “checkpoint” system that is used in some countries? Nigel Leach, England
I think the checkpoint system can work very well if you have a limited numbers of officials, a large field and predominantly amateur players. In the professional arena the players themselves really want to know who is the individual or individuals within a group who are causing the group to be slow. That’s why our players much prefer to be individually timed in the event that a group is out of position and that’s why we employ that system.
A group is liable to be timed when they are out of position and we have told all our players to expect to be timed. We do time a vast number of players throughout the season and there are probably upwards of 30 players who have some form of either financial or stroke penalty at the end of the season so it does have an effect. We do know that we have a number of slow players on Tour and we do target them in certain circumstances but for most of the time they very thoughtfully manage to identify themselves to us fairly easily by always having a gap in front of them whenever they pass us referees out on the course!
What do you think are the most challenging aspects of refereeing on Tour? P Cochrane, England
I suppose one challenge is to look interested when sometimes you are asked something which really a player should know and should be dealing with himself and he thinks it’s really interesting, but in fact it’s not! So it’s to concentrate on what I’m doing and make sure I don’t slip up over the easy questions that sometimes from time to time I get asked.
Once a group is put on the clock how often would you have to issue bad times before the group is back in position? John Turner, Canada
That depends on how slowly the guys are playing. I think that most guys that we time on Tour do start to hit the ball somewhat quicker but if we look at the number of bad times we have during a year, I think this year we will have in the region of 50 bad times, some of those unfortunately will be two in the same round, that will end up being a stroke penalty. But it seems that in the majority of cases, as soon as you get the bad time then they do know that that’s the last chance and they really do pick up the pace pretty quickly and that’s the end of the problem.
I have a problem with Rule 34-3 relating to Committee Decisions, where a competition is closed and the competitor is later found to have breached the Rules but he is not penalised if he can convince the Committee that he was unaware of the breach. Why should someone who gains an unfair advantage over the rest of the field get away with it? Roger Rhymes, England
If a player makes an honest mistake, I have no problem with them avoiding a penalty after the competition has closed. However, if someone does do something that is extremely poor that may result in a distinct advantage, then maybe it goes beyond that and the player may have to be dealt with by his peers and we will report him to the Committee. That would be a cheating offence and thankfully we don’t have too many of those on the Tour but we have had one or two and we do deal with them firmly and would like to think that we don’t have too many problems of that description on the Tour at the moment.
Players are often touching the line of putt to repair old hole plugs and ball marks, however, it’s quite impossible for a referee to see what the player exactly did and to be sure that he didn’t repair any other damage to the putting green. How do you handle situations like that? Rudolphe Gyselinck, Belgium
There is a level of trust I think in the golfers who are playing in a competition and if we believe there to be any question, we will ask them what happened and whether they may have done something on the line of putt that is not allowable under the Rules. So yes, it is a game of trust and we expect when we ask players questions, that we’re going to get a truthful answer and rule accordingly based on that answer.
What has been your most difficult ruling? Ben Parker, Australia
Often the most difficult is determining what is a hole made by a burrowing animal, reptile or bird. I had one of these with Seve Ballesteros on the last hole of the last event of the 1994 season when he was tied for the lead. I examined every inch of the hole and surrounding area and nothing was convincing me that this was a free drop and eventually Seve had to play, he finished second by a shot to Bernhard Langer and finished one place further down the bonus pool pay-out.
Nowadays, the good thing is that I do have very good relationships with the members of the Rules department in The R&A and if I do have a particularly difficult situation that I want to run by them and, having already run it by my own colleague Andy McFee, I will call the Rules department where all of the members of that particular department are very happy to try to help and assist.
Do you think that rules simplification is feasible at the highest level of the game? B Lee, China
I think that it is too much to expect golfers to know the Rules of Golf in minute detail. I know the work that I put into it and I know what sort of level of Rules I’m at and I don’t expect every golfer to put in that sort of effort to play a game. That said, I really do believe that it is not that difficult to master the basics and The Quick Guide to The Rules of Golf (the new section that appeared in the last edition of the booklet) contains so much information in a simple and easy to read manner, new golfers should be expected to read these 7 pages. It would produce a generation of golfers who were proficient in the Rules of the game.
Any tips for budding referees? J Hage, Netherlands
Yes, try and get all of your decisions right! More seriously, learn the definitions, really get to understand why they are there and they say exactly what they do in the manner they say it and then apply that to your Rules knowledge. You’ll find it’ll help greatly. Also make sure that when you’re reading a Rule, read to the end of the particular Rule you’re dealing with because often there is a little Exception that appears somewhere near the end of that particular Rule and if you don’t reach the Exception you might be in a situation where you’ve already applied the penalty and in fact the player would have been covered by the Exception and therefore shouldn’t have been penalised. So read the Rule through to the end and whatever you do, do not rush your decisions. Think them through and by all means look at a Rule book if you feel that it will help you and if you aren’t 100% sure make sure you do look it up. Oh, and never be fearful of asking a friend or colleague.