Blog – Volvo World Match Play Championship

Kevin Barker, Assistant Director - Rules, blogs about his experience at the 2013 Volvo World Match Play Championship.

Thracian aerial view

“There are snakes on the course. The white headed snake with the zigzags is poisonous, but not serious. Anti-venom is available.”

So said the sign on the players’ noticeboard. Welcome to Thracian Cliffs, home of the 2013 Volvo World Match Play Championship!

Golf in Bulgaria is quite new: there are seven courses in the country, three of which nestle almost side by side by the Black Sea. This is a landmark occasion for golf in Bulgaria - the first European Tour event to be played on Bulgarian soil – and what a venue for it. Thracian Cliffs, designed by Gary Player, is spectacular. The course hugs the coastline and the views are magnificent, but woe betide the player that is distracted by those views as the course is a serious test, particularly from the tee.

To business.

I arrive and take a slow tour of the course, familiarising myself with the various features and the layout. In the afternoon we have our referees meeting. There are twelve referees this week: nine from the European Tour, two from The R&A and one from the Bulgarian Golf Association – Konstantin Ikonomov. Konstantin, a graduate of The R&A’s Rules Education Programme, is the first referee from Bulgaria to referee at a European Tour event.

We chat about the Local Rules and the conditions of competition:

  • Transportation - as with many modern courses, there are often long distances between the green and the next tee. Pace of play is always an issue at professional events; therefore it has been decided to shuttle players (and referees, thankfully) on buggies on many occasions. Each journey requires specific mention in the Local Rules as the Tour’s Hardcard (the Local Rules/Conditions that the Tour applies every week of the year) provides that players must walk at all times unless permitted to ride by the Committee.
  • The group stages comprise eight groups of three players. Two players will qualify for the knock-out stages from each group so there is a high probability of ties in the group stages. We run through the procedure in the event of a tie.
  • In all stroke play events on the Tour, players are prohibited from practising on the green after completion of each hole (to speed up play). This prohibition does not apply in any match play events on Tour – a change from the norm for players and referees.

We also discuss some of the scenarios that arise in match play, such as concessions, and, as there will be a walking referee with each match, we are asked to announce the result of each hole and the state of the match - I always find that confusing for some unknown reason.

The main point to remember? This is match play, not stroke play.

Day 1

There are only eight matches today. It’s a beautiful day and I’m one of the roving referees. Just keeping an eye on pace of play really and it all goes well. The ruling of the day involves Graeme McDowell whose ball comes to rest next to a snake on the 9th fairway.

Graeme is, naturally, quite reluctant to go near his ball (I can’t say I’m that fond of snakes myself). Decision 1-4/10 allows a player to drop a ball at a safe point when presented with a dangerous situation but there is no need to employ that – the referee with the match takes one of McDowell’s clubs and flicks the snake away. Rather him than me.


Day 2

I’m refereeing two matches today: Nicolas Colsaerts v Kiradech Aphibarnrat, and Peter Hanson v Shane Lowry.

Prior to each game I introduce myself to the players, advising them to ensure they have no more than 14 clubs and that any concessions are made clear.

Colsaerts wins 3&2 and Lowry wins 5&4. The most common ruling? Whose turn it is to play first, which sometimes involved pacing the distances from the flagstick (only when they are on or near the green that is).

A number of provisional balls are played (there was even a provisional ball for a provisional ball), lost balls (including timing the searches – you are allowed five minutes), and a query over a club that was damaged during the normal course of play (but was not unfit for play).

The result of the Hanson/Lowry match meant that all three players in that group were tied on two points each, the other player being George Coetzee. On conclusion of the Hanson/Lowry match we all took a ride in buggies and I checked my Local Rules, noting that the play-off holes were 1, 2, 3, 4 and 18. Meantime, the play-off holes were checked to ensure all the tee-markers and flagsticks were in position.

On arriving at the 1st tee, I picked up a stick and broke it into three different sized pieces and the players, now joined by Coetzee, drew lots to determine the order of play. I reminded them that we were now playing stroke play (as we had three players), so no concessions. The first hole was tied in 4s, and it was all over after the 2nd as Lowry scored a birdie 2, Hanson a 3 and Coetzee a 4. Coetzee was out.

An interesting end to a long day.


Day 3

McDowellI’m refereeing the Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño v Nicolas Colsaerts match. It’s quite windy and in the opening holes Fernandez-Castaño plays a number of controlled, low shots. Impressive but acouple come up short and he’s 5 down after five holes. It’s lookinglike an early lunch when Colsaerts is 5 up with six to play.

 Fernandez-Castaño keeps the game alive with a half at the 13th,  Colsaerts is now dormie 5 and surely it’s just a matter of time? Strange  things happen in match play though.

Colsaerts loses a ball at 14, Fernandez-Castaño birdies 15, Colsaerts pushes a drive at 16, fluffs a drive at 17, and all of a sudden we’re heading down the last hole. Colsaerts rallies to hit a great iron to about 10 feet whilst Fernandez-Castaño is just off the back of the green. He needs a birdie to take the match to a play-off but his chip slides by. Game over.

Again, a few decisions about order of play, provisional and lost balls – which shows the importance of knowing the basics - and a question about whether a ball is unfit for play; it was only badly scraped so the player had to continue with it.

The ruling of the day occurs in the Colsaerts v McDowell quarter-final in the afternoon when Colsaerts hits his drive over a small toilet building on the 10th hole. His ball is lost in the lateral water hazard and so Colsaerts takes a penalty drop… in the toilet building - an immovable obstruction - from which he is then entitled to (free) relief!

Colsaerts clearly sees the funny side of the situation as he wants the toilet seat kept up, even though there is a chance that the ball may disappear down the toilet and the referee closes the door a fraction on the assembled media to give the player “some privacy!”   

After taking relief (under Rule 24-2) from the toilet building, Colsaerts chips onto the green and holes the putt for a par and an improbable half.

That’s the end of the tournament for me as I’m flying home the next morning. Between flights, I manage to follow the progress on the internet as McDowell lifts the trophy in the 50th year of the event. A suitable end to a great tournament at a wonderful venue.

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