Rules Blog - The Avantha Masters

SSP ChowrasiaAn “Avantastic” event, by Ishwar Achanta

A golf event, of any magnitude, is always a challenge to put together, so I must say that the organisers did a phenomenal job in delivering a super event in the 2011 Avantha Masters, played at the DLF Golf & Country Club in Gurgaon (Delhi), India, on 17-20  February. This is a European Tour event but, co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), with a prize money of 1.8 Million Euros.

A golf event of this size, in India? One may well ask and reasonably so! In a cricket-crazy nation, particularly with the cricket World Cup having just started, staging an event of such magnitude in India may not have been perfectly timed. Nonetheless, despite the cricket and the fact that India has only around 100,000 golfers or thereabouts, it was very important to deliver a top-class event

I have been an amateur golfer for 37 years and qualified as a referee at The R&A’s Referees School in St Andrews in 2002. I now have the pleasure to serve as the Asia-Pacific representative on the R&A Rules of Golf Committee.

But I was just one part of the international Rules team assembled for the event, with representatives from the European Tour, including the legendary Chief Referee John Paramor, the Asian Tour and the Professional Golf Tour of India. I was delighted to accept an invite from the European Tour to be a part of this Rules Team, and, from an Indian golf perspective, it was particularly gratifying to see two confident, young, female Indian referees, Shalini Malik and Neha Majithia, from the PGTI, as part of the group.

Delhi, coming off the winter, has some very challenging golfing weather! Frequent travellers to Delhi have rued the interminable waits at airport lounges on account of the fog, but this time around the weather did not spare the golf course! On day one, we had a three-and-a-half-hour fog delay.

Ishwar Achanta in the Delhi fogDays two and three also saw delayed starts due to the fog, though not by as much as on Thursday. We first had to complete round one and then get the next round started promptly. This is where the experience of the various tours’ staff really comes into play. The well-oiled mechanism kicks in and, with a minimum of fuss, the highly efficient back-room team got all the paperwork done in rapid time.

The Rules incident of the event that stands out for me, unfortunately, was the two-shot penalty that I had to inform my countryman, Jeev Milkha Singh, about. On day one, Jeev’s drive on the 13th struck the on-course lighting unit – there are many such lighting units on the course. The Local Rule requires the shot to be cancelled and replayed, but Jeev did not do so and he played his second shot. When he was then informed of his mistake, he had to go back to the tee and the resulting two-shot penalty for playing from the wrong place was indeed painful! Despite this, Jeev finished the day at a very creditable four under par. The press, of course, were very curious and Jeev was most gracious in acknowledging that he was at fault for not having read the Local Rules more carefully. A lesson for all perhaps.

On day three, in fading light, the approach shot to the 14th green of Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, playing in the leading group, landed in the water hazard, bounced off a rock and trickled onto the green side of the course. Thongchai walked around to his ball and my colleague, Neha, who was following the group outside the ropes, alerted me on the radio to the fact that Thongchai could be standing in the hazard to play the ball. You might wonder what was wrong with that?

As I was behind the group, I must have broken all landspeed records to get to Thongchai and stop him from taking his stance and playing the ball, for the hazard in question was classified as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) where a player must take relief if the ESA interferes with his stance or area of intended swing. The surprise on Thongchai’s face was comical when I told him of the possible breach and his relief was palpable when he realised he was saved of the applicable penalty. Decision 34-2/3 says that the Referee may warn players who are about to breach the Rules, though he is under no obligation to do so. However, being a good official mandates me to do whatever I can to assist the players, be they professional or amateur. It is part my role to try and prevent breaches of the Rules from happening in the first place and it was no small measure of satisfaction to be on hand to assist Thongchai.

Judging by the volume of radio chatter, all of us referees were kept busy on all four days, scurrying about doing rulings or keeping the pace of play under control. John Paramor, as the Chief Referee, brings to bear his enormous experience and his calmness is the panacea for any difficult rulings a referee may be subject to.

The icing on the cake was the fact that a young man from the City of Joy, Kolkatta, SSP Chowrasia, quietly played some scintillating golf and snatched the crown from Englishman Robert Coles.

One needs to meet this lad, to learn the meaning of simplicity and humility! A worthy winner from India: a fitting end of a quality event, to which all of India looks forward to welcoming back, along with the global golfing community, next year.