Carlos Gasparian, from Rio de Janeiro, writes about his experience at The Open.
Referees are in constant evolution. You probably started like me, helping people understand a Rule at hole 19, then working in Rules Committees and feeling a need to do a Rules course, then being hooked by the Rules and wanting to understand their nature and the Decisions.
The evolution continues, and you are asked to participate in a Rules Committee at a different club, a different city, a different State. By now you already know that you are not infallible, that you have to continue developing, learning, understanding better the nuances, updating.
And still you want to evolve. People remember your name when needing a referee, and you get more experience and with the greater experience, more invitations. You start working at the Major tournaments in your country, which, in my case, includes the Brazilian Open, The Pro-Tour, the Web.Com.
Now you are thinking that there is a need for players to better understand the Rules of Golf and to have more referees working the tournaments, so you put yourself forward to complete the Level Tournament Administrators and Referees School conducted by The R&A, and after successfully passing, teach The R&A Level 1 and Level 2 Rules courses. You are proud that some of the students that started with you achieved a Pass with Merit and are now able to be involved. And you still want to evolve…
Then you receive an invitation to be a referee at The Open Championship. Not just any open, THE OPEN! It is a huge honour, a huge pleasure and a huge responsibility to work as a referee at a Major, and The Open is The Open!
With over one month to The Open I was already overwhelmed by the attention to detail, the care, the flow of communication, the receptiveness and I knew I would learn a lot and take a great step towards my development as a referee.
After all, we are always looking for ways to become better referees and making golf consistent across countries and competitions. Predictability is a good word of what you may expect from a referee anywhere in the world.
Part of the preparations include study materials, guidelines and instructions including hotel information, where and how to get your referees uniform and how to contact the car service to get there. Everything is planned already. Preparation is the key word, 145 years of tradition as a guide.
And suddenly you are there, in person. So little time and so much to prepare and learn. Having never been to the course before, I walk it to feel it. The players are already there so you are distracted by their swings and training. You force yourself back to the task at hand, walk and understand the course and possible trouble areas including TV towers, grandstands, signage, etc.
The next day you get a big help. The course is explained, temporary immovable obstructions, cables, TV towers, metal fencing, ropes, clocks, all shown and relief procedures explained. This is done in presentation format with videos of every hole so there is no doubt. Then, when you think you already understand, you get a chance to walk the course with an experienced referee that knows the course and The Open. Questions, doubts, concerns, all handled with ease. How would I handle this patch of soil? How would you give relief from this? What if the ball moves? You go back to the hotel prepare, sure you will do a good job the following day. The big day.
Just then you get more information: weather reports, new examples of how a Rule is to be applied, assignments for the next two days, groupings and assignments.
My big day was huge. Observer with the group of Mickelson, Westwood and Els. An Observer is a forward referee seeing where the ball goes to, if there is any trouble that would need the presence of the referee, and help to control the crowds around the ball, so that the players have a smooth round of golf. This allows the referee to plan the Decisions ahead of time. Being able to tell the referee that the “ball is in the TV camera stand, relief is available either side” helps a lot. You follow your group until they get to the green, make sure they are all out of trouble and you move on to wait for the drive at the next hole. The disadvantage is that you do not get to see the putts of your group and have to guess when players get their birdies by the sound of the cheering crowds. But you also get a chance to see the group ahead of you, in my case, McDowell, Kuchar and Johnston. Nothing to complain about there!
Mickelson did a huge job, equaling the record-breaking first round score of 63 for The Open, missing a putt to beat the record. The ball lipped out and captiously decided not to fall in the hole at the 18th - WOW!
Information continues flowing and we continue receiving weather forecasts and updates such as reports on all decisions of the prior day.
Then I had my debut as a referee.
First I go to the Committee Office, cutting and pasting so my yardage book has all the information on all the obstructions and relief procedure on each hole, where I was supposed to stand at the tee and at the green with my team (scorer, scoreboard carrier and bunker raker). Then I meet my team and discuss the day ahead.
I arrive at the first tee and introduce myself to the players (Oskar Arvidsson, Harold Varner III and Tyrell Hatton) and caddies, and asking the latter if they have counted the clubs. The starter announces the first player and we are off.
The first ball goes straight into the grandstand area. I walk looking at the yardage book so I get there with the correct decision at hand. I remind myself to be cordial and confident. Decision: use the dropping zone closest to where the ball lies in the grandstand. The player drops his ball and it is in play.
I am satisfied with the Decision and so is the player. I go on to have four more Decisions during the round. When the round was over, I felt relief. I thank the players, thank the group of the scorer and bunker raker that helped me and wait outside the recording area for any questions. The job is done. I return the radio, go into the Rules Office to discuss my Rulings and hand over the time sheet.
At dinner with fellow referees, we discuss the interesting cases of the day and hear the assignments for Saturday. A new series of communiques arrive: the weather report and an advisory on possible ball movement due to the high winds and a reminder of the Rules to deal with cases of the ball moving in windy conditions.
Again I am an observer, this time with Garcia and Johnston, with Kuchar and Na in the group ahead. Both beautiful games. The crowds are larger and a little more difficult to control. I advise the walking referee of any conditions that might require a ruling and we have a very good game.
On the last day I was a walking referee once more, with Harold Varner III again and Richard Sterne. Not a boring day as I had eight different decisions to make: a temporary immovable obstruction relief, unplayable lie, lost balls, cables interfering, ball moved, ball on or off the green query. Despite the many decisions, things went very smoothly and we finished the game 15 minutes ahead of time.
I congratulate the players and thank my team, return the radio and go into the Rules Office for my report on the rulings and deliver the timing sheet. I am glad for a job I think was well done. A lifetime of stories and memories to share.
I had a fantastic experience at The Open. I consider it the “cherry on top” of my work in Rules and I recommend it to anybody who is serious about Rules. I sincerely thank the President of the Brazilian Confederation, Paulo Pacheco, and The R&A for the opportunity of working at The Open.