What’s it like to work as a referee at The Open Championship?

CC Boo (Chairman – Rules of Golf Committee, Malaysian Golf Association), an invited official at this year’s Open, shares some of his experiences of refereeing at Muirfield.

My favourite activity each day since I was 10 years old has been to spend around 30 minutes each day dreaming. This year one of my dreams came true…

The Invitation

It started a few months ago when I received an email from David Rickman (R&A Executive Director, Rules and Equipment Standards) informing me that I had been invited by The Open Championship Committee Chairman, Jim McArthur, to serve on the Rules Committee for the 142nd Open Golf Championship at Muirfield.

My Love of The Open

I was at The Open in 1992 (when Nick Faldo won at Muirfield) and in 1995 (when John Daly won at St Andrews). Being Asian, i.e. I’m not too tall, it was tough at times being sandwiched among other spectators following the leader groups.

It was only in 2005 that I attended my first R&A Rules School in Singapore and passed the exam with merit. The dream was born there…

Arrival at Muirfield

I arrived at Muirfield on July 15th and walked the course twice trying to familiarise myself with the layout, all the temporary structures like TV towers and grandstands, and any potential Rules issues. I spent lots of time looking over the Local Rules, suspension of play policy, temporary immovable obstructions, timing, and so on. All can be found in the Big Blue Folder that each referee is given on arrival. Message number 1: you’ve got to do your homework. Nearly ready.

On the morning of the 17th we had a meeting of all the referees; there are about 75 of us from all over the world. Many of them have refereed the Open before, but there are a few new boys like me. It’s a great opportunity to learn from some of the best in the business and to ask questions.

The meeting goes well, we take the official referees photograph and then it’s the official course walk. We’re split into groups and my group is headed by the ever smiling face of Alick Bisset. OK. Ready. Let’s go.

Day One

Amazing.

I’m out as an observer for the referee, Chris Hilton (Chairman of The R&A Rules of Golf Committee). The players are Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen. What else could I ask for more to be with Tiger in my first Open!

My job as an observer is to work ahead of the players, to be near the landing area to give the referee advance warning of any Rules issues. If necessary, I’ll assist the marshals in controlling the crowds when a player’s ball lands amongst the spectators and I’ll even help search for the player’s ball – any delays are not good for the overall pace of play of the Championship after all. Working with Chris is also a good chance to learn from such an experienced referee.

I’ve got my binoculars with me, they are a “must have” in order to follow each player's shot. And I’m careful where I walk (where I’m walking in the rough the ground is quite uneven) and stand (so that I don’t block the views of spectators).

I position myself at the left rough at hole 1 and before I could compose myself a ball flew over my head into the left rough just barely 15 yards from me. Hey man, what’s going on? Message number 2: you never know when something will happen, so be prepared.

Tiger DropInstinctively I move into action and help search for the ball. We find it in the thick rough. Nasty. Try and control the crowd from getting too close to the ball but the situation became chaotic when someone shouted that it was Tiger's ball…more crowds gather and I have to be more active role in crowd control together with the marshals on site. I carefully avoid a few TV cameras that follow Tiger but…Ouch! I smack my face into a camera! Still standing though (but rather embarrassing I must admit). Welcome to The Open.

Day Two

I’m a walking referee for John Huh, Brendan Jones and HS Kim.

I try to position myself in a good location to observe the players playing each shot, not too close though as I don’t want to distract them. I’m there to help, I don’t want the players feeling they are being closely watched.

Walking with a game makes it easier to know where a player’s ball may be after he has played it, it allows me more time to compose myself before arriving at the scene, to check the Rules and Local Rules if necessary, and to have an idea of what ruling player may be seeking. Message number 3: there’s no harm in double-checking the Rules, the most important thing is to get it right.

Walking with the group also gives me a ringside seat. I can see some of the best players in the world play one of the best courses in the world. Pretty good, but I’m here to referee – never forget.

Day Three

I was assigned as an observer for referee, Simon Higginbottom, with Shiv Kapur and Jamie Donaldson. The crowds were so friendly, every eye contact they greet me with respect. Marvellous feeling man.

Final Round

I was assigned as an observer for referee, Tony Disley, with Dustin Johnson and Jason Day. I’ve read about Jason before and have a high respect for this young man - despite going through a rough journey in his youth he’s managed to become successful today.

Conclusion

I can't believe I could walk 6 days in a row on a links course. Thanks to the 3rd April invite letter I’m a healthier man with stronger legs to take home to Malaysia.

Once again, thanks to all the Rules Experts from around the World for making my week at The Open so wonderful and successful. I loved it, but more importantly I learned a lot.