Rules Blog: The 16th Asian Games

By Kevin Barker, Assistant Director - Rules of Golf

It was my pleasure to serve as one of the Technical Officials at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, where Korea completed a clean sweep of the gold medals at the golf events. As in the 2006 Games in Doha, they won gold in the men's individual and team events, and in the women's individual and team events: A formidable achievement.

The Asian Games is huge. Around US$15 billion was spent on preparation: stadiums, transport, infrastructure and so on. 42 sports, 476 events, 53 competition venues, 28 training venues, more than 13,000 athletes and coaches. As I say: Huge.

The Games were organised by the Guangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee, under the auspices of the Olympic Council of Asia, and it is very much the Olympic Games of Asia. The 42 sports comprise the 28 Olympic sports and an additional 14 that reflect the diverse sporting culture of Asia, such as karate, cricket, squash and kabbadi.

Unlike golf in the Olympics, the golf competitions at the Asian Games involve amateur players, not professionals. But to win a medal is news, big news, and many of those competing will go on to be top class professionals.

One of the stories of the week was the participation of Ali Ahmad Fazel and Hashmatullah Sarwaree of Afghanistan. Afghanistan only has one course, a rocky nine holes in the capital, Kabul. Fazel and Sarwaree are the first two players from their troubled country ever to compete at an Asian Games or any other international golf event. While the sport was introduced to the country more than 40 years ago, it is only since 2004 that the public have been allowed to play.

The R&A is passionate about developing golf around the world and endeavours to assist the growth of the game in countries like Afghanistan, Mongolia and Vietnam all participants at these Games. There is enormous potential in Asia amongst some of the participating countries, and in absentees, such as Laos and Cambodia.

From a Rules perspective, we've spent a lot of time working with the China Golf Association over the last five years to develop officials that can referee at the highest level. That education programme has been successful, and it was so pleasing to see so many Chinese officials at the Games that have come through the programme acting as referees, recorders, starters and scorers.

Many of them now work in the golf industry; on the various professional tours, at golf clubs and universities, in golf course design and management, and some were going on to help and participate at our China National Referees School

Reflecting the international flavour of the Games, there were officials - Technical Officials - from Australia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, the USA and one from Scotland - me! This diversity certainly helped in communicating with players from the many countries present. It is also a great opportunity to discuss the varied golfing issues across the region, to learn from each other, and to plan for the future.

The course itself was presented in excellent condition; there was no need to mark any areas as ground under repair, the fairways were perfect, the greens very true. With so many water hazards, however, there was a lot of yellow and red paint required, and lots of stakes to be put on the course. Thankfully, with so many officials, what could have taken days took only three hours - the quickest course marking I've ever heard of.

We always stress that you need to mark golf courses accurately and, given the amount of balls in water hazards, all this course marking was absolutely invaluable. Take your time with your Local Rules, conditions of competiton and course marking, in the long run it avoids confusion, arguments and lengthy delays.

There were lots of lost balls, lots of ball searches, and lots of provisional balls played. In order to play a provisional ball you must do so before you go forward to search for your original ball. You have to state that you are playing a provisional before you put it into play, otherwise it is not a provisional ball, it is simply the ball in play, something that is often forgotten about. The Technical Officials had to remind players on a number of occasions to properly announce their intention to play provisional balls.

Two rulings stick out in my mind though, both involving caddies. In one situation, a player's ball was in a bunker and, before he played his first shot, his caddie raked the bunker. Unfortunately that is a two-stroke penalty.

In the other case, a player's ball was in a water hazard at the first hole and his caddie removed some sticks from just behind the ball. According to Rule 13-4 you cannot remove loose impediments, such as sticks and leaves, when your ball lies in a hazard. Another unfortunate two-stroke penalty.

The player is responsible for the actions of his caddie (Rule 6-1). Both cases show just how important it is for not only the player to know the Rules, but his caddie too. Pick your caddie wisely!

So it was a very interesting tournament, both inside and outside the ropes. Hopefully I'll get the chance to attend the next Games in Incheon in Korea in 2014!