Rules Blog - Solheim Cup

By Marc Vande Broek, Chief Referee, 12th Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle in Ireland

It was clear from the outset that our main concern was going to be the weather and running out of daylight. During the last Irish Open we had a suspension for thunder and lightning and extreme severe rain showers.

When I arrived, I was told that in the previous three weeks there had been only one dry day. So, I went straight out to the course, expecting the worst.

However, the fairways, tees and greens were in perfect condition. The work by our agronomist, Julian Mooney, and the green keeping staff over the past two years had obviously paid off.

But outside the course, the rough was extremely wet and the ground around the grandstands, TV-towers and leaderboards was very muddy.

Solheim Cup

I know the course well as we have held two Ladies Irish Opens at the Killeen Castle Course, with the last taking place only a month ago. So my course marking reports already mentioned all the areas that needed to be trimmed or taken care of in order to mark the course down to the smallest details.

So as I marked out the course, I adapted or amended my hole by hole notes in order to change them afterwards. It is something that needs to be done very precisely. During the course walk with the referees they will look at every situation very thoroughly and the answer should be found in these notes.

It took me two full days to get the course marked,  I went over the lines three times to be sure that the markings would still be visible and accurate on the last day of the competition and would not be washed away. By the end of Sunday the course was fully marked, including drop zones. The weather had not been too bad. We had a few light showers but it was windy and that dried out the course a bit more.

The referee, Yvonne Cassidy, who was going to do the pin positions arrived on Monday morning, and went out very early to set the practice pins for that day. It is a lonely job. She went out every morning at the crack of dawn to set the tee markers and 18 pins for the morning session and again following the last match to set the holes for the afternoon session.

We were still suffering with very muddy areas where the spectators would walk and all of a sudden I found areas where the greenkeepers had put a kind of gravel sand to make it walkable. The problem was that some of these areas were in play and became an abnormal ground condition. There was a large patch behind the green on the left hand side of the 9th.

I spoke with the Tournament Director and suggested we trim part of the rough and make a drop zone as an additional relief for this Abnormal Ground Condition. All DZ’s which were not in the rope lines were staked and roped to prevent them from trampling by the spectators.

Solheim Cup

On Tuesday all the players played the course and we got some positive feedback. Despite the amount of water they found that the course was in an excellent condition. The fairways were not spongy but the ball did not get any roll. Of course the question of preferred lies was brought up but that was not under consideration at that time.

The Captains’ agreement, which forms the conditions of play and the local rules of this competition, was signed that afternoon.

Wednesday morning I refereed the first singles match of the Ping Junior Solheim. It is a tradition that five referees of the Solheim Cup referee at the last day of that competition. Both players played very well and very fast as well, 35 minutes under schedule. The match ended on the 16th hole with a win for the USA 3&2. I just entered the clubhouse and it started raining cats and dogs. For once I was lucky because the conditions became miserable.

That afternoon all the referees arrived, beside the LET and LPGA referees, we had invited referees from the European Tour, PGA, ILGU, R&A and LGU. There was also a delegation of three referees from the Norwegian Federation. They would be observers but followed the entire routine for the referees as well.

Uniforms were provided which is always a hectic moment: trousers don’t fit, jumpers have to be changed etc.

Together with the Tournament Director I had a meeting with the TV producers and commentators. The TV compound was one big muddy place. We explained the terms and conditions and which buggies would be allowed inside the ropes. I explained a few local rules and the pace of play policy.

Solheim Cup

To be honest, pace of play was my main concern as at all the previous Solheim Cup events I witnessed play was very slow. It took about six hours to play a four-ball. On the Ladies European Tour we have a strict pace of play policy with an average of 4:30 for a three-ball and most of the time we manage to keep that pace. We put slow groups on the clock and then a player gets 30 secs average to play a shot. There is no bad time warning. If you go over it is a one shot penalty straight away. In the beginning unfortunately we had over a dozen of players penalised with a penalty shot. The system is much better known now and the result is good. For example at the last Ricoh Ladies British Open, the last group ended one minute under schedule which is a super result.

For the Solheim Cup we allowed them five hours 18 minutes for the fourballs, four hours and 24 minutes for the foursomes and four hours six minutes for the singles. It looks very generous but this course has 36 minutes walks between green and tees.  We stressed this at the players meeting that evening.

When I arrived at 8am on Thursday morning, two video walls had been erected along with metal fencing on the 12th, 16th and around the 18th green. On the 12th, the fencing was way off and certainly not in play. On the 16th I had it moved to an extension that relief was possible if you would end up within four club lengths on the outside of the fencing. But on the 18th it was a big problem I did not want it to be attached. Serious but friendly discussions with the Chief Marshall resulted in keeping them in place as single units and therefore movable. I checked it every morning before play started. 

At 11am we had a course walk with all the referees. Normally it is a bit like a rules exam but apparently it was all clearly marked and they found all the answers in the hole by hole notes until we found “an edging groove”. The green keeper had already cut a few of them away but this was a new and a long one, I explained the local rule which is in the decisions book and one of the referees correctly advised to put it on the local rules in case there would be more.  Thankfully this ruling did not arise during the tournament.

I finalised the Local Rules and the hole by hole notes, prepared the referee’s table and had a final spin on the course. We were all set.

Friday morning was cold but dry. We had the foursomes in the morning and it went very well. We came in 10 minutes under schedule so the afternoon session could start without delay and as scheduled. The result was 2 – 2.

Solheim Cup

The conditions in the afternoon were totally different. The wind picked up, resulting in a lot of balls ending up in muddy areas, and even the drop zone on the 9th had to be used.

The first group started to slow down and after a friendly talk and no response we put them on the clock for three holes. They picked up nine minutes and were back OK. The groups behind were informed and stayed in position. The 3rd group finished on the 14th hole.

So we were in good shape. On the 17th Michelle Wie, who was playing in the last group, hit her ball into the water hazard marked as lateral. The observer had not seen where the ball pitched.  Was it on course side or in the water hazard?  The referee had a good notion of it and stepped in to make a decision.  One of the caddies asked him if he was absolutely sure, and he called me to ask for some confirmation from looking at the footage. Unfortunately the angle of the camera did not permit me to see it clearly. The referee proceeded with his initial entry point and concluded the ruling which was accepted without discussion. Unfortunately it took about 10 minutes, looking at the footage, the ruling etc. It was 18:40 and becoming very dark. I was worried but the players did not say anything and finished the 18 with a win for the Europeans. The European team led 4.5- 3.5.

Saturday was a beautiful day, sunny, no wind and big crowds. I could hardly get anywhere with my buggy, so I positioned myself on top of a mound so I could overlook a good part of the course. Again the morning session went very well although we had two players who had to be treated on course by the physio. We used the rule in the decisions book where a player is allowed 15 minutes in total per round.  I monitored and timed the intervention. This time we came in 15 minutes under schedule.

The four-ball scores meant Saturday finished 8–8 meaning the last day would be a thriller, for the players and for us.

Sunday morning. I got to the course and I was told that one of our referees was in hospital and he was due to referee the last match. So I had to fill in and take his place.

At 11.45am I was suddenly called to the tee where the captain of the USA told me that Cristie Kerr could not play due to an injury. Apparently the caddies had shook hands on the practise putting green but that was not enough for me. So I decided to go by the book. We have a Local Rule in place that a player who is not at the time established by the committee on the tee, loses the first hole. If she appears 5 minutes after her starting time she is disqualified. Karen Stupples arrived on the tee at 11.59am.  At Noon, the starting time, the player was not on the tee. I stressed to the US vice-captain to give me a formal answer and at 12.03pm she told me that the match was conceded. So I informed the starter and he announced the match and the result through the PA system. Europe won the match. It was their first point of the day. I then had to explain to the media the outcome of the situation through a series of interviews and our press officer came to get the exact info. Afterwards I read “Confusion on the first tee”, I was not confused at all, the only thing I wanted was an official statement that the player was not playing. I did not want to take any risk and therefore went by the local rule as it is in the decisions book and on the hard card of the Solheim Cup.

Solheim Cup

The weather became even worse and just when I went back on course we had to suspend play because the greens were flooded. We kept the players on the course. The ground staff started squeezing the greens. The rain stopped and after a short break we were playing golf again. The first matched finished on the 13th, a win for Europe.

Again the rain started hammering down and we had to suspend play and this time we had to bring the players in. For the second time the green keeping staff were staring at mission impossible. However they managed again to get the greens dry and the bunkers playable in a reasonably short time. I was very impressed.

The meteorologist said we had a two hour window, so we brought the players back out and played again. Before we started the question was asked if we would play preferred lies but as we started the round without them, and we do not change the conditions of play during the round, they were not introduced.

Finally we were playing again but two hours later we had to suspend again for heavy rain and threat of lightning. We brought them out again at 16:50 and play resumed at 17:00.

The finish was a thriller: Suzann Pettersen birdied the last three holes to claim a victory over Michelle Wie; Rookie Caroline Hedwall came back from two down after the 16th to halve the match; and Azahara Munoz won her match by one hole. Europe won 15–13.

We finished, despite the bad weather, but the players helped us in maintaining a good pace of play and the green keeping staff did miracles. The Irish people are really amazing. They stayed out and supported the players until the very end.  All though I always stay calm, this event is special and afterwards you feel the adrenaline floating away......a good glass of Guinness helped it.