Guidance on Running a Competition


A referee is defined in the Rules of Golf as one who is appointed by the Committee to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. A referee must act on any breach of a Rule that he observes or is reported to him.

At certain times, it may be appropriate to restrict a referee’s ability to give a decision on a certain aspect of the Rules. For example, declaring areas of ground under repair. Often the authority to declare ground under repair is reserved for the chief referee in order to ensure consistency over the type of conditions relief is granted for. Equally, it may be the policy of the Committee that only designated referees are permitted to time players in order to ensure the pace of play policy is enforced uniformly over the entire field.

It is not sufficient for a referee merely to give a correct decision when appealed to; he must also at all times be sufficiently alert to observe accurately and to interpret correctly all the events that may occur during a round. Within the scope of these duties he is assigned to a match or game to help ensure that it will be played fairly under sporting conditions.

This raises the question of the referee’s ethical position when he sees a player about to break the Rules. The referee is not responsible for a player’s wilful breach of the Rules, but he certainly does have an obligation to advise players about the Rules. It would be contrary to the spirit of fair play if a referee failed to inform a player of his rights and obligations under the Rules and then penalised him for a breach that he could have prevented. The referee who tries to help players to avoid breaches of the Rules cannot be accused of favouring one player against the other, since he would act in the same manner towards any player and is, therefore, performing his duties impartially.

The following are examples of actions that a referee may take in order to prevent a breach of the Rules:

  • If a player is about to play another ball because the original ball may be lost or out of bounds, ask the player whether it is a provisional ball.
  • If a player at any time plays a provisional ball or puts a second ball into play, ensure that the player can identify both balls.
  • If a player tees his ball ahead of the markers, draw his attention to it before he drives.
  • If a player is about to lift a loose impediment in a bunker or water hazard, remind him that his ball is in a hazard.
  • If a player is about to adopt or adopts a wrong dropping procedure, call his attention to it and point out the correct procedure.

Another important general aspect of refereeing is the manner in which a referee performs his duties. When golf is played at a level where referees are present, the players concerned may be under considerable pressure. A heavy handed or unsympathetic approach may be unhelpful and could have a detrimental effect on a player by disturbing his concentration. Therefore, a referee should attempt to perform duties with understanding and tact. It is important to sense when to talk to a player and when to be silent.

Beginning with the first tee, the following comments offer guidelines on how a referee should act when faced with a certain situation and suggest actions that a referee can take in order to avoid a problem arising:

(a) At the First Tee

If the players in a group or match are experienced in being accompanied by a referee, it is usually sufficient for the referee to ask the players to ensure they can identify their own ball and that they count the number of clubs they are carrying. If the players are less experienced it may be useful to remind them of the role of the referee, i.e. to be of assistance to the players and to be on hand should they be doubtful as to the correct procedure in a situation.

(b) On the Tee

It is recommended that the referee situate himself on the teeing area when players are playing their tee shots, and in a position that he will be able to determine whether the players have teed their ball within the limits of the teeing ground. As stated above, a referee should not stand back and watch a player tee and play his ball from outside the limits without bringing this fact to the player’s attention. However, the referee should ensure that he does not get in the way of the player in, what can be, a restricted area in terms of space.

(c) Between Tee and Green

Having left the tee, if there may be a doubt as to which player is first to play, the referee should arrive in the area ahead of the players so that he can decide on this matter before the players are ready to play. Determining the order of play is obviously more important in match play than in stroke play.

It is recommended that the referee positions himself to observe each player making each stroke, although in some circumstances this will obviously not be possible. However, the referee should be careful not to hover around players to the extent that it could be a distraction and make the player feel uncomfortable.

Being in a position to see each stroke played will assist the referee in determining questions of fact, such as whether the player has moved the ball at address. In addition, it means that the referee will be on hand if a player is playing from a place where Rule 13-2 may come into play, for example, if the player is having to manoeuvre himself through bushes to make a stroke at the ball. Here the referee must determine how much the player may disturb the interfering growth in the process of fairly taking his stance (see Decision 13-2/1). The referee can guide the player in his actions to ensure he does not breach Rule 13-2.

(d) On the Putting Green

On reaching the putting green, the referee should select a position where he can observe play without interference to any spectators.

A referee should be in a position to observe that a ball lifted is replaced in the correct place. Problems in this area are most likely to arise when a player has had to move his ball-marker a putter head length or more to one side so that it doesn’t interfere with others. The referee should take particular note of this action and ensure that the marker is put back in the right place before the ball is replaced.

Many experienced referees have individual methods of ensuring that they observe the replacement of the marker in the correct place. For example, when observing a player moving his marker a putter head length to one side, a referee may take a coin out of his pocket or take his watch off and will not put it back until he has observed the correct replacement. In this way, the referee is unlikely to forget that the player has moved the marker away from the original spot.

 Chapter 7-2 Referees
A referee should try to position himself so that it is possible to observe each stroke.

The referee must also watch to see that the players do not touch their line of putt except as permitted under the Rules. When a ball stops on the lip of the hole, the referee may have to decide, first, whether it overhangs the edge of the hole, and if so, whether the player has used the allowable ten seconds under Rule 16-2 to determine whether the ball is at rest.

One especially difficult situation on the putting green that can arise relates to the concession of putts in match play. Sometimes a player may miss a putt to win a hole and, without thinking, removes his ball from near the hole without holing out and without concession by the opponent. In these cases, the referee should make certain whether the putt had been conceded or not. It is advisable in match play for the referee to ask the players to ensure that concessions are made clearly. This may be an additional task undertaken by the referee on the first tee.

(e) General

On a more general note, sometimes a player can be careless in his observance of a Rule. If there has been no actual breach the referee should caution the player and so minimise the possibility of having to impose a penalty later; this can be done by making sure that the player is familiar with the particular Rule. 

Duties of Official 2

In any situation where a player may wish to take relief, the referee should advise the player not to touch his ball until he has decided upon his best course of action. When applicable, the referee should instruct the player to establish and mark his nearest point of relief and the prescribed dropping area.

The referee should not leave the player simply because the prescribed dropping area has been established. He should remain in position to assist the player if a dropped ball rolls into a position requiring it to be re-dropped, or if the dropped ball strikes the player or his equipment. Conversely, the player may think that a ball that has been dropped and is in play should be re-dropped. The referee should be on hand to prevent the player from lifting a ball that is in play.

At times awkward situations will arise. The referee should be firm and positive, but take plenty of time. It is always as well to consult the Rule Book and it may help to let the players read it. When faced with a problem, it is often of considerable assistance to find out the player’s intention. A determination of this can also be very useful as a routine approach to a questionable action, for example, if the player appears to test the depth of sand in a bunker, or to touch the line of his putt when there are no visible loose impediments to be removed.

In addition to the Rules and Local Rules, the referee must familiarise himself with the Conditions of Competition, which may vary considerably in different tournaments. Particular attention should be paid to any Pace of Play condition to enable the referee to act in accordance with the prescribed procedure, should he be faced with slow play.