The R&A - Working for Golf

Rio Rules Blog - The Olympics

Shona McRae, Assistant Director - Rules, was a referee at the women’s golf event at the Olympic Games. Shona and some of her Olympic colleagues share their their refereeing experiences at the Games.

For the Olympic Games, an international team of referees was assembled to walk with each game and provide guidance and decisions on the Rules of Golf as and when they were required.

The Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro.
The Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro.

Chris Feng,China

Chris from the LPGA Tour was one of the referees for the women’s golf event. He graduated from Beijing Sport University in 2004 and initially worked as the assistant manager of a golf club in China. 

“I was asked a lot of Rules questions (in my job) such as what you should do if a ball was moved by a dog or what happens if the liner is pulled out when removing the flagstick.  So I would try and find out the answers from The R&A’s website.  I would find myself reading the Decisions on the Rules for hours a day and got quite into the subject. 

“Then in 2005, I was able to attend the joint China Golf Association and R&A referee training programme and passed my R&A Rules exam.  It inspired me to have a career in refereeing and after gaining some more experience, I joined the China LPGA Tour in 2008.  I am now the chief referee on the Tour.

“Although I have been a golf referee for 11 years now and have officiated at The Open, US Open and US Women's Open, nothing can really compare to the feeling when I got the email from International Golf Federation inviting me to be a referee at the Olympic Golf Competition.  I barely slept that night with excitement knowing that I would have the opportunity to be part of golf history.

“During last week I walked each day with a group, which included some big names such as Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen, Lexi Thompson, Brooke Henderson, Seiyoung Kim, Gerina Piller and Charlie Hull.   During the 3rd round, I was assigned to walk with the final group, which included Charlie Hull, Stacy Lewis and the 36-hole leader, Inbee Park.  

“I can only compare the feeling to being like a World Cup football referee officiating the semi-final game.  We were followed by big crowds and many cameras.  It puts pressure on your shoulders but also gives you a big sense of pride to be doing this.  Fortunately, the group played well and did not give me any difficult decisions.

“However, one of the most impressive moments of the week was during Round 2 when Susan Pettersen played her second shot on the 10th hole.  She decided to play her shot from within the lateral water hazard just less than 10 yards from a live caiman!  Although she would have been entitled to relief under Rule 1-4 for a dangerous situation, she decided to play the ball because she had a good lie.  I had to stare at the caiman all the time while she played the shot just to be sure it did not move and had my umbrella at the ready just in case - a brave golf shot!”

A caiman watches on from the water at The Olympic Golf Course.
A caiman watches on from the water at The Olympic Golf Course.

Claudia Camargo, Chile

Claudia started refereeing after taking The R&A Rules exams in 2012.  Since then she has gone on to gain a wealth of experience refereeing in her home country and at The Open at Royal Liverpool in 2014. 

“In late February this year, I received an email titled “On Behalf of Rio 2016”. Imagine my surprise when I read that I was being invited as an International Technical Official (ITO) for the women´s golf competition. “Last year I was an ITO at the Pan-American games, but this was the Olympics!  To be honest, I cried a little.

“The pre-event preparation was amazing. Every detail of it was covered by the International Golf Federation staff.  The day that the uniform arrived and later the accreditation it became real, tangible.

“Outside the ropes there was a true spirit of camaraderie and a very relaxed atmosphere:  lots of selfies, pictures, smiles, Olympic colours, flags, amazing golf bags (Israel´s was my favourite), the players (sorry, the athletes) proudly wearing the colours of their countries - the list goes on.

“Inside the ropes, there was a great responsibility to do our best to make this a successful event.  All referees know that a perfect round is one where the players finish within the time set for the round and with no rulings. 

“My rounds were, for the most part, uneventful however I did have one unexpected ruling.  For the first time in an event with professional players I had an equidistant drop from a lateral water hazard (Rule 26-1c).  I worked together with one of the roving referees who took the player to the other side of the hazard and I pointed at the spot at which the ball last crossed the margin in order for him to determine the equidistant spot.  My favourite Rules are 26 and 28 so that ruling made my day!”

The team of referees assembled for the women’s golf event at the Olympic Games.
The team of referees assembled for the women’s golf event at the Olympic Games.

Sveva Greco,Italy

Sveva was also part of the refereeing team for the women’s event. 

“I am very fond of golf and the Rules of the game, so decided to become a referee as a result.  I've been refereeing for more than twenty years.  I felt very honoured when I received the invitation to be part of the Olympics. I expected to find a great atmosphere but actually, in the end, it turned out to be even more special than that. The relationship and cooperation between us all was especially good and ensured a fun working atmosphere.

“I had quite an interesting ruling with Lexi Thompson when her ball "disappeared" in a green side bunker at the Par 3, 8th hole.  Lexi had to touch the sand in order to search for it which is allowed under Rule 12-1a.  She found the ball after digging in the sand for it and as the lie had been altered, she then had to recreate it.  I advised her to leave a small part of the ball visible.  However, in the end, due to the difficult lie she had, she deemed the ball to be unplayable and proceeded by taking a penalty drop under Rule 28c.

“I really enjoyed it and loved being part of the historical return of our sport to the Olympic Games.  It has been unforgettable!”

Lydia Ko of New Zealand plays to the 18th green after a spectator picked up her ball
Lydia Ko of New Zealand plays to the 18th green after a spectator picked up her ball

Shona McRae, Great Britain

“Being part of something as big as the Olympic Games was an unforgettable experience.  I was fortunate to be chosen to referee the last match on the final day of play.  The leader, Inbee Park, Lydia Ko and Gerina Piller formed the last group and were all very much in contention for the medals.

“I had three rulings of note.  The first came on the 2nd hole, where Lydia Ko found the lateral water hazard beside the green.  Although the ball was not in water, she decided to take relief under Rule 26-1c and drop the ball within two club-lengths of the point where the ball last crossed the margin into the hazard.  This was relatively straight forward but she wanted me to assist her in measuring the two club-lengths on the equidistant arc to ensure the area in which she dropped the ball was not closer to the hole.

“In going for gold, Inbee Park also found the water on the 10th hole.  Her pulled tee shot entered the lateral water hazard at a point where it was possible to drop the ball behind the hazard.  She asked me what her options were and I confirmed that Rule 26-1b was applicable due to the front location of the hole.  She then dropped the ball and went on to bogey the hole but made up for it with birdies on the 13th, 15th and 17th to secure her gold medal win. 

“Finally, on the 18th hole, I had to assist Lydia Ko after a young spectator picked up her ball.  Under Rule 18-1, if a ball at rest is moved by an outside agency, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced.  Usually in these circumstances, the spot where the ball is to be replaced is not determinable and consequently, the ball is dropped to get it back into play.  However, in this case, a witness was able to confirm the exact spot where the ball was before it was picked up.  As a result, the spot on which to replace the ball was known so I asked Lydia to replace the ball.

“She went on the birdie the Par 5 18th hole to clinch the silver medal by one stroke from Shanshan Feng of China.  It is rare to see golfers celebrating coming second or third in a championship but at the Olympic Games, coming second or third means so much!

“An unforgettable week all round!”

The historic medal winners.
The historic medal winners.