Claire Hargan, Assistant Director – Rules at The R&A, talks about her experience refereeing at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
I arrived at Wentworth on Tuesday afternoon and was greeted by the Chief Referee for the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship, John Paramor. It was my first visit to Wentworth and to this event, so John very kindly offered to show me around the course. He knows the course like the back of his hand having refereed here for over 30 years, so I could not ask for a better guide. The course looked in great shape but tight in places with some small and undulating greens, so I expected we were likely to be kept busy during the tournament.
The Wednesday was Pro-Am day and presented another chance to review the course and the Local Rules alongside a couple of the other guest referees before a meeting of all the refereeing team in the afternoon. Before I knew it Thursday morning was upon us and the tournament was underway.My assignment for the Thursday was to cover holes 14, 15 and 16 so I positioned myself beyond the drive area on the 15th hole which should allow me to reach any part of my area relatively quickly, crowds permitting! I had a couple of relatively straightforward rulings on the 15th hole (a water hazard and relief from a man-made path) but there were a couple of more unusual rulings needed on the par three 14th hole.
My first ruling at the 14th involved Thai player Thongchai Jaidee. He called for a referee to ask if he could remove a stone which was embedded in the green on his line of putt just a few feet from the hole. As the stone was solidly embedded it was not considered to be a loose impediment (see the definition of loose impediment) and so the player was not permitted to remove the stone. If it had not been solidly embedded he would have been permitted to remove it but he would not be entitled to repair any hole left by the stone (see Decision 16-1a/7). Fortunately for the player, the stone was very flat and did not affect the putt which he successfully holed.
As I was waiting for the Jaidee group to clear the 15th tee there was a shout of 'fore' from the 14th tee behind me. I turned round just in time to see a ball striking the path and bounce high into the air and over the boundary fence. The ball was clearly visible just on the other side of the wire fence. Of course, when a boundary is defined by a fence, the boundary is considered to be a straight line between the fence posts, rather than the wire meshing itself (see the definition of Out of Bounds). Therefore, as the wire meshing looked like it may be sitting slightly ahead of the posts I made sure I had my gotcha (a wound up piece of string) ready to check this with the player. Unfortunately for Shane Lowry, when taking the string from post to post it showed that the ball was fully beyond that line and he had to return to the tee to play his third shot.
A very small part of a referee’s day is spent carrying out rulings and so, in reality, a large part of a referee’s role involves keeping an eye on the pace of play. Two groups after the Lowry game I was required to ‘monitor’ a group that had lost a few minutes on the group in front (more of which below). I followed the group from the 15th right through to the endof the round with one player receiving a ‘monitoring penalty’ on the 18th hole.
All in all it was a busy first morning. Thankfully the rest of the event was a little quieter for me but I had a few more rulings to keep me on my toes.
Pace of play is a hot topic in both professional and amateur golf so it was interesting to see how the Tour is dealing with the issue while at Wentworth.
Following The R&A’s pace of play seminar held in November 2016, the European Tour in conjunction with their Player Council approved a change to their pace of play policy for 2016 in an attempt to reduce round times.
Prior to the 2016 season, a group who had lost ground on the group in front would normally first be asked to close the gap on the group in front. They were usually then given one or two holes to close that gap and only then if the gap had not narrowed would the group be ‘put on the clock’, i.e. timed for each shot. The 2016 policy now means that if a group has lost two or more minutes on the group in front they will immediately be advised that they will be ‘monitored’.
Monitoring is effectively the same as being ‘on the clock’ as all the players in the group will have a set time to play each stroke. The main difference between monitoring and timing is that if a player has a bad time when he is being monitored it will simply have financial implications and the player will then immediately be ‘on the clock’ for any subsequent shots. Only when a player is ‘on the clock’ would any bad times result in penalty strokes.
Many groups were monitored during the event, including the group containing the leader and eventual winner, which was monitored for four holes towards the end of the final round. That goes to show how serious The European Tour is about improving pace of play. It is early days but the Tour has already seen a significant improvement in pace of play with reductions of up to 10 minutes per round in comparison to previous years.
Of course as highlighted by The R&A's Pace of Play manual, the players are only one of the three factors which influence pace of play. Course layout is another significant factor and this was evident by the impact that the par five 17th hole had on the pace of play during the event. I was stationed at the 17th fairway during the final round and experienced this first hand. The wind was such that many of the players were able to get close to the green in two shots. However the difficulty of the second shot meant that the majority missed the green and often then had three or more further shots to finish the hole. In addition, the drive was difficult and several rulings were required around the driving area, again leading to further delays.
One such ruling with Rafael Cabrera Bello required me to give him relief from one of the large TV cranes around the course. These cranes are positioned as far out of the way as possible, but they have to be in a good location for covering the action, so inevitably they do come into play now and again. As a TV crane is not part of the normal challenge of the hole, the Local Rule for temporary immovable obstructions applied to the structure. This is one of the very few Rules which allow a player line of sight relief from an object. However, there were several trees close by which could potentially cause problems depending on where the player would be required to drop the ball under the Local Rule. I therefore ensured that Cabrera Bello did not lift his ball until we knew where that would be so that the option to play the ball as it lies was still applicable.
I was glad I'd spent some time that morning checking where the pin was in relation to the TV tower behind the green. While the top of the TV tower was visible from the drive area, the pin was well out of view. To work this out, I would have to have walked forward 100 yards. I therefore determined the nearest point where the player would have line of sight relief and advised the player where he would be required to drop in relation to that point. The player was happy with the dropping option and went ahead with the drop, – going on to par the hole. With the number of spectators in the area, the trees, the size of the TV crane and not being able to see the pin, it was a tricky ruling to end the week on. It took four or five minutes to get it right, again all impacting on the pace of play.
Overall it was a fantastic event to be involved in and it was great to get the opportunity to work with not only some of the world’s best referees, but give rulings to some of the world’s best players. Congratulations to the winner Chris Wood who won the tournament by one stroke from Rikard Karlberg.