Ask the Referee: David Rickman

In the first of a short series with some of the top referees and officials in the game David Rickman, The R&A’s Executive Director – Rules and Equipment Standards, takes the hot seat to answer some questions.

In the May edition of the Rules Newsletter, readers were invited to send in their questions to David about the Rules and refereeing. In the next edition it will be the turn of John Paramor (Chief Referee on the European Tour) to share his knowledge and experience.

However, in this edition we put David in the “hot seat”…

Editor: So David, the first question to cover is, as a Rules official how do you avoid not becoming complacent about Rules knowledge and, in addition to Conditions, Local Rules and familiarising yourself with the course or your zone, what should you review before partaking in any Championship event? Christine Beauchamp, Puerto Rico

David: In anticipation of an event I will carefully survey the golf course, by walking or driving around it a number of times. I will assess the type of situation that can arise, for example if there’s a lot of water hazards I will pay particular attention to not just the water hazard Rule but Decisions under Rules 13-4 and 26 as well. So I think the questioner is right to be wary of complacency and all that I can suggest is to prepare thoroughly and continually test yourself during the event itself.

Editor: Ok. Second question, why do professional golfers constantly request rulings when the answers should be known by all golfers competing in competitions? Terry Devonald

David: I think there’s an element of an “insurance policy” being taken out, if I can put it that way. As soon as the professional golfer gets a ruling from a referee, even if that advice proves to be incorrect (which would be very rare) the player would not be penalised.

Editor: I’m 12 years old and studying to be a Level 3 official and will take the test soon. I was wondering if you have any tips you have collected over the years that would help me on the golf course and also if you had any advice for a young official trying to get into this as a profession? Timmy Yorke, Pei, Canada

David: I’m very impressed that you’re getting into this detail at such an early age. I was barely playing golf by the time I was 12 let alone knowing anything about the Rules! I think all I would suggest is to continue to work hard and take as many opportunities as you can to help at events. As the years pass you will have opportunities to referee at Club level perhaps, then at district or state level and then finally perhaps at national Championships. Organisers are always looking for volunteers, always looking for people with the right experience, so I would encourage you to stick at it. I would also encourage you to watch what full time officials do at professional events.

Editor: How, in practice, can a roving Rules official effectively referee more than one match at a time bearing in mind that he or she now has no authority to intervene? James M Rowland, UK

David: In any situation where you are covering more than one match then we are back to the origins of match play where players will be expected to look after their own interests and make claims should they wish to do so. So it is a slightly different scenario and it’s worth you and the players involved being absolutely clear as to whether you are a referee with that specific match or whether in fact you are helping more than one match in which case you are really there just to answer any questions that arise from the participants themselves.

Editor: During any game or match what is the most common decision or question you are asked by competitors? Cliff Francis

David: Probably the most common questions concern taking relief from either immovable obstructions or abnormal ground conditions, including areas of ground under repair or casual water.

Editor: What is the procedure you adopt for asking about a golf situation that may require a ruling by a competitor in a competition? Tony McMunn

David: Well, there are a number of facts that you need to establish. At the very outset you need to determine what form of play is being used at that particular time. You need to identify who was involved, where on the golf course the incident has occurred and what exactly has happened. So it’s all about establishing the facts and once you have established the facts (and that sometimes means you need to talk to more than one person), you can look to analyse those facts and provide an appropriate answer.

Editor: Ok, next question. How do you deal with argumentative players? Not the polite professional players, the nasty, aggressive players who want to take it out on you because they’re playing poorly? John Robinson

David: Well, fortunately at the elite level where referees are used at both amateur and professional levels the numbers of aggressive players or difficult incidents are few and far between. I think all referees need to remember that most of the time they are called into a situation where the player has played a poor shot and/or has had an unlucky break and, therefore, their golf ball is somewhere they don’t want it to be! So an awareness and an empathy for that is always helpful. You’re there to do a job, to help the player get the ball back into play quickly and efficiently in accordance with the Rules - nothing more, nothing less. If you can remember what it’s like to be that player, that can help you. In all of these situations, it’s a case of remaining calm, remaining dispassionate, remaining impartial, talking calmly to the player, giving the player time to think about the situation and in most cases the matter can be amicably resolved.

Editor: Regarding the use of red or yellow stakes, whilst preparing any course for tournament play I often come across many situations where a lateral water hazard becomes a regular water hazard and many situations during play where a competitor does not know whether the ball has crossed the margin of the lateral or a regular water hazard. I find the red stakes to be far more equitable with the elimination of problems much easier to make rulings. Is this incorrect? Should regular water marking just be eliminated? Michael Kastner, USA

David: The use of red and yellow markings, and the existence in the game of two kinds of water hazards is an issue that’s been discussed on and off many times over the years. The main reason for retaining the yellow type of hazard is for holes when crossing a water hazard has strategic significance to the play of that hole. . Two prominent examples are often sited, namely the 1st hole at St Andrews, where the player needs to negotiate the Swilcan Burn in front of the green and secondly, the 12th hole at Augusta, where the player has to cross Rae’s Creek. In both of those cases it is felt that the fundamental challenge of the hole is to negotiate that water hazard in front of the green and, therefore, any relief option that would allow the player in certain circumstances to drop on the greenside of the hazard is to be resisted. So I think that there are good reasons for keeping two kinds of water hazards. Particularly in elite play, the use of yellow hazards is highly appropriate but I would certainly accept that at recreational level and at lower competitive levels of the game a more general use of red hazards is both common and actually makes considerable sense as it can help players to play reasonably quickly in those circumstances.

Editor: Are you confident that you know the Rules to cover all situations or do you have support in making the decision on a course? Ruth Goodwin

David: Even when you know the Rules well and have prepared diligently for an event there can be Rules questions that are difficult to answer. At any event you should have a structure in place to support those that are giving on-course decisions. So you’ll have officials out on the golf course either in buggies working in zones of 2, 3, 4 holes or you might have an official walking with every game, (as we do at The Open Championship). In both of those cases you’re looking to provide advice and assistance to all members of the Committee also by radio. All officials are able to call upon others to offer assistance and second opinions if that is necessary.

Editor: As different referees were attached to the playing groups at the Masters, was the Chinese amateur unlucky to have a more vigilant referee? All referees should follow the Rules to the letter. I would welcome your views. Salim Ladha, UK

David: Clearly the slow play penalty to Guan Tianlang was unfortunate for the player concerned but the pace of play policy, which is applied to all competitors at the Masters, needs to be applied fairly and equally to all concerned and I can confirm that it was. For any official to start timing a player, that player’s group needs to be “out of position”. In the case of Guan, his group were out of position, in other words, there was a clear gap in front of them and they were failing to keep up with the time schedule. They had been warned, they were aware they were being subjected to individual timing and despite all of those warnings I’m afraid the young Chinese player failed to play quickly enough incurring two “bad times”, resulting in the one-stroke penalty. That having been said, he dealt with the aftermath of the incident extremely well. He’s played a number of professional events since and I am led to believe that his pre-shot routine is quicker.

Editor: Next question is from a referee who sometimes finds it hard to concentrate when he’s playing a game with his friends because he’s always keeping an eye on other players. So his question is how do you find the balance between being a nightmare to play with and having a pleasant, social game? David Oliver, UK

David: It’s a very good question and I think anyone who has taken time and trouble to learn the Rules can, at times, be placed in a tricky situation. I, myself, do try to separate the two parts of my golfing life – playing and refereeing. If I’m playing socially I don’t get overly punctilious about possible Rules breaches that I may witness. If it’s a competition, there may be occasions when something’s not quite right and you have to act, but you still you have a couple of choices. Sometimes it’s important to speak up at the time. Sometimes it doesn’t really make any difference and, therefore, you can have a quiet word at the end of the round. In all cases you want to try and deal with these issues in a considerate way.

Editor: I’m a keen amateur Rules official and I have recently qualified as a county referee. How did you get to your role today and what advice do you have for others wanting to take refereeing further? Jane Marr

David: I started my job at The R&A really with no great Rules experience. I learned on the job and I very much sympathise with those who are at the early stages of a career whether it is as a volunteer or as a paid official. I think it is a case of learning through experience, so take the opportunity to referee at Club and county level. If you can then get some opportunities at national level, where you can mix with other officials, it’s a very good way to learn. So, simply take those refereeing opportunities and stick at it.

Editor: How often is the referee in golf supposed to act as the judge, which means more than the Rules official? Do you agree that the referee should act as the Rules official not as the judge, Taking this point of view, how about the last incident with Tiger Woods at the Masters in 2013? Jolanta Makuch, Poland

David: What we are trying to do with the Rules and Decisions is to help all referees so that it is relatively rare that they have to exercise judgement in important cases and that those cases are limited to situations where the facts are, for one reason or another, not entirely clear. So, with that in mind, regarding the Woods situation at the 2013 Masters tournament there was no ruling given to Tiger at the time, but the Committee reviewed the drop he took at the 15th hole while he was still on the course and concluded that there was no breach of the Rules. However, the following morning the Committee reviewed the case again and, this time, reached a different conclusion. In the exceptional circumstances of this case, it was reasonable for the Committee to waive the penalty of disqualification normally attributed to a score card error.

Editor: Final question. If a bridge was crossing a hazard, as described in the [May] Newsletter, would relief be given if the ball was in casual water on the bridge? Brian Davidson, Scotland

David: No, because the margins of a water hazard extend vertically upwards and downwards and, therefore, any pool of water, any puddle on the bridge, would technically be within the margins of the hazard. The Definition of casual water specifically excludes water that’s within the margins of a water hazard, so there would be no relief in those circumstances.

Next Newsletter – John Paramor (Chief Referee on the European Tour) takes the “hot seat”.