Rule Tip of the Week: The “Prepared Official”

Not my usual Rule tip, but something I’ve been working on and tweaking for some time.  If you volunteer as a Rules Official for your local high school district, a junior program, your PGA Section and/or your State Golf Association, or you are contemplating doing so, you might find this article particularly useful.  It is meant to be all-inclusive so it may seem a bit over the top.  I welcome any of your additions, corrections, tweaks, etc., for subsequent editions.

Paul Kruger, PGA

The Canyon Club

Albuquerque, NM


Suggested Equipment

  • Equipment/duffle bag(s) to carry various items
  • Drink container/water bottle to stay hydrated and fruit/snacks for nourishment
  • Clear plastic shower cap to place over steering wheel of golf cart in case of rain to keep dry any paperwork attached to the steering wheel
  • Clipboard to hold paperwork together (paperwork: starter’s sheet; hole location sheet; pace of play timing chart; Local Rules & Conditions of Competition; hard card; etc.)
  • Decisions and Rule books
  • Extra pencils and scorecards for players who might lose or temporarily misplace theirs
  • Tees to offer players who need to mark dropping areas
  • Stopwatches to keep track of length of search for multiple lost balls and for timing players for pace of play
  • At least 50′ of string to stretch between adjacent out of bounds stakes in order to determine whether or not a ball is in bounds
  • Flat toothpicks to serve as a dam for the emergency repair of a damaged hole
  • A small first aid kit including such items as Band-Aids, athletic tape, anti-bite lotion, etc. Other items to have available to respond to a specific request by a player, spectator, etc., would be Benadryl, aspirin, Motrin (ibuprofen) and Tylenol (acetaminophen).
  • A distance-measuring device (DMD) to expedite the determination of which ball is “away” or the equidistant point on the opposite side of lateral water hazard
  • Sunblock, broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, rain suit, umbrella, boots, towel, gloves, stocking cap, hand warmers, insect spray, etc., for protection from the elements anticipated during the event
  • Radio and earplugs/microphone to be able to communicate with other Rules Officials without disturbing players
  • Air horn for suspension/resumption of play
  • A golf ball for rolling on a green to verify acceptability of the hole location and/or to demonstrate how to hold the ball when there is a ball interfering with play situation
  • A putter (a) to putt to and test the reasonableness of a hole location, and (b) to tamp down repaired pitch-marks and old hole plugs on a putting green
  • A paint gun and cans of white, yellow, red and green (for correcting mistakes) paint
  • A hammer to help secure leaning or fallen out of bounds (and other) stakes
  • A “T-square” made from pieces of small diameter PVC pipe to assist in aligning tee-markers

General Tips

  • Perform a radio check near the clubhouse to make sure that your radio is working. Perform a subsequent radio check when you reach your assigned area on the course to make sure that you can make contact with at least one other official. Know which channel to use. Re: earphones, you may need to plug in the earphones BEFORE turning the radio on for it to work properly. If, for some reason, you do not have earphones, you have to remember to turn down the volume when you are in the vicinity of a player getting ready to make a stroke.
  • Familiarize yourself with all the Conditions of Competition, Local Rules, etc., prior to play arriving at your area. Ideally, there should be a meeting of all Rules Officials prior to play to review such Conditions and Local Rules. For example, is the Local Rule for accidental movement of one’s ball on the putting green in effect? Is the Local Rule for embedded ball relief through the green in non-closely mown areas in effect? Preferred Lies? One Ball Condition? Where are the dropping zones, if any? Are DMDs permitted? Are there any restrictions concerning caddies, transportation, spectators? Is there intervention relief for sprinkler heads near putting greens?
  • Know where the restrooms and water stations are located on the course so that you can inform players and spectators should they ask.
  • Even when the Transportation Condition is in effect, i.e., players may not use carts, in order to help pace of play, you may still give a player a roundtrip ride back to where he/she played his/her original ball when he/she is proceeding under penalty of stroke and distance.
  • When you notice a player move his/her ball-marker to the side because it interferes on another player’s line of putt, do something unusual (like holding a coin or a tee in your left hand) to remind you that the player must move his/her ball-marker back to its original position in case the player forgets to do so.
  • When involved in a search for a ball, and a ball is found, make sure that the player positively identifies the ball, advising the player, if necessary to lift, to mark the location with a tee before lifting the ball.
  • If you see a player’s tee shot end up in a particularly bad area, e.g., very high/thick rough, and you see that the player has safely played a provisional ball, resist the temptation to go over and search for the ball as the player may want to continue play with the provisional ball without attempting to search for the original ball.
  • Always approach players needing a ruling with a smile and say something like, “How may I assist you?” and/or “Would you like to know your options?”
  • Don’t turn the ruling into a Rules seminar! You are not there to show the player how much you know about the Rules. However, if there are two adjacent conditions, e.g., a cart path adjacent to a lateral water hazard, explain in advance that it is not possible to take relief for both conditions simultaneously. Explain that the first step will be to take relief for the lateral water hazard. The next step may be to take relief from the cart path depending on where the ball ends up after correctly taking relief from the lateral water hazard.
  • Proceed with the ruling as efficiently as possible. Once you have completed the ruling, leave the immediate area, but stay in the general area in case the player has a follow-up question.
  • If the player disagrees with your ruling, inform the player that he/she may request a second ruling.  If the player requests a second ruling, radio the OIC or the roving official on your side that a second ruling has been requested and the player’s location.  Do not give any details to the other official about your ruling.  When you see the other official approaching, move 20-30 yards away so there is no interaction between you and the other official until after his/her ruling has been made.
  • When assisting a player in taking relief, avoid saying, “That ball is in play.”  Remember that a ball is in play even when it has been dropped incorrectly or in a wrong place.  Instead, when you have observed that the player has proceeded correctly, it is better to say, “You are good to play.”
  • When trying to determine the relevant facts prior to making a ruling, try to avoid (as best you can) asking questions that can be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.” When the situation dictates, have a fellow-competitor or opponent present to listen to and corroborate what the player is telling you.
  • Inform the OIC or your rover when you want to go to the clubhouse for lunch or other break so that your area is covered during your absence.
  • You should know how to contact emergency medical personnel if such are on site. Otherwise, call “911” if there is a serious medical issue, e.g., suspected heart attack, stroke, poisonous snake bite, etc. For a non-serious medical situation, e.g., nose bleed, dizziness, keep in mind that the player may discontinue play for 10-15 minutes to recuperate. Monitor the situation and allow other groups to play through, as needed.
  • If a player decides to withdraw from the competition, make sure that another player in the group receives the score card that the withdrawing player was marking and takes over the responsibility of marking that score card for the balance of the round. The player withdrawing should initial the score card to verify the scores recorded on the score card up to the point of his/her withdrawing.
  • When there is a group of only two players, and one player withdraws or does not show up for his/her tee time, give the remaining player the option to continue play by himself/herself so long as a marker can be found to accompany the player. Otherwise, make arrangements for that player to join either the preceding or following group.

Setting Up the Course

  • GET THERE EARLY!! [Actually, for the Official in Charge (OIC), it is essential to visit the course one or two days beforehand to install/touch-up course marking and check/install out of bounds stakes].
  • Wherever possible, limit the distance between adjacent OB stakes to no more than 20 yards. As a precaution, paint a white circle around the base of each boundary stake so that the stake can be replaced if it is removed for some reason.
  • If you are the OIC, verify with Course Maintenance that the course is in playable condition. If you have the time (otherwise delegate to your two rovers), drive around the course prior to play getting underway to mark any GUR areas, e.g., fallen trees, animal damage, vandalism of the course.
  • Check to make sure that bunkers are raked ahead of play, and bunkers are relatively free of loose impediments.
  • Remember to take your radio with you when you leave your cart to check hole locations, etc. so that you do not miss any announcements from the OIC et al.
  • Use a T-square made from PVC pipe to carefully aim the tee-markers so they are directing the players to the centers of fairways/greens. Dot the position of the tee-markers, first picking up the tee-markers when you dot the grass so that paint is not sprayed on the tee-markers. For a multi-round event, use a single dot for Round 1, two dots for Round 2, etc., or dot with different color paint to distinguish between rounds.
  • If time permits, when verifying hole locations; roundness of holes; and liner depths, pick up any debris, e.g., pine needles, leaves, etc., within at least 10 feet of the hole to help with pace of play as players will be able to play more quickly without such debris in their way. Repair any unrepaired pitch-marks or uneven old hole plugs in the vicinity of the hole.
  • Remove tee-markers that are not being used for the competition, placing them to the side of the teeing grounds so that players are not confused and less likely to play from outside their assigned teeing ground, e.g., black tees vs. blue tees.
  • Check for consistent placement of rakes outside the bunkers (based on the Committee’s recommendation); also, check to make sure there is a rake near every bunker … if not, radio for Course Maintenance to rectify, if possible.
  • Carry a ball with you when checking hole locations to roll in the vicinity of the hole to make sure that the hole location is reasonable, e.g., not on a severe slope. Be mindful of the effects of predicted/actual wind conditions on the day.

Starter’s Tips

  • If you are not provided a “Starter’s Box” then you should prepare one yourself. Items that should be included: Starter’s Report showing players’ names and starting times; pencils; tees; marking pens for players to use to mark their balls; insect spray; hole location sheets; Conditions of Competition; Local Rules sheet; score cards; etc.
  • If the event is a qualifier, then you should be able to inform the players how many qualifying spots are available.
  • Well before the first tee time, go through the score cards to make sure that they are in order and none are missing. If there is concurrent starting on Holes 1 & 10, make sure that you do not have any score cards belonging to the other starter.
  • Make sure that there is an official time clock and position it so that it is in plain sight for the players. Make sure that the clock is accurate, e.g., using your cell phone to verify the time clock. Have a source for replacement batteries for the clock, if needed.
  • When starting times are delayed, radio the revised starting time(s) to Rules Officials on the course so they can note the revision(s) for pace of play monitoring.
  • Radio any changes to the Starter’s Report if a player does not show for his/her tee time, or an alternate player is inserted.
  • After handing out the score cards, ask the players to swap score cards so that no one is marking his/her own score card.
  • Inform the players who will play first, who will play second, etc., for the appointed starting time.
  • Ask the players to compare golf balls and markings to avoid a wrong ball situation.
  • Remind players to count their clubs to make sure that they have no more than 14 in their bags.
  • If you are not sure how to pronounce a player’s name/hometown, ask the player ahead of time so that you can announce his/her name/hometown properly. Hint: write down the name phonetically on your Starter’s Report so you get it right!
  • Position yourself where you can make sure the player is teeing the ball within the teeing ground, i.e., not in front of the tee-markers.
  • If there are concurrent starting times, e.g., simultaneous starting on Holes 1 & 10, make sure that you can contact the other starter to find out if one of your players has gone to the wrong starting hole, or to inform the other starter that one of his/her players has come to your starting hole by mistake. If possible, have a volunteer ready with transportation to help such players get to their starting holes on time.

Scorer’s Tips

  • Make sure that the scoring area is clearly defined so that the player knows when he/she has left the scoring area.
  • Begin the scoring process by greeting the players with a smile, maybe asking them how they played. Then, confirm that there are two signatures on each score card. Initials are sufficient. If one or more signatures are missing, hand the score card(s) back to the player(s) for correction before proceeding.
  • After confirming two signatures, make sure that there is a legible score in each box before the player leaves the scoring area.
  • For stroke play events, ask the players if anyone in the group played a second ball under Rule 3-3 Doubt as to Procedure.  If someone says, “Yes,” then the players should remain in the scoring area until the issue is resolved.  Radio for any Rules Official that might know of the doubtful situation on the course, e.g., unmarked ground under repair. On occasion, it may be necessary to summon the OIC or a rover to go back out to the course with the player(s) to review the doubtful condition from which the player sought to take relief.
  • You, not the players, are responsible for adding up the total score. Ignore any 9-hole or 18-hole scores written down by the player. It is good practice to encourage the player to wait in the scoring area until you have totaled his/her score. Write down your official total on the score card and, as a courtesy, inform the player of your total.
  • In a multiple-round event, have information available for the players regarding how/where/when the starting times and pairings for the next round will be made available. Also, be able to inform the players how long the practice facilities will remain open that day, as well as when the practice facilities will open the next morning. Remind the players that they must not practice on any course yet to be played, including the course designated for a playoff, if necessary.

Suspensions of Play

  • Stay apprised of any incoming weather throughout the round. Let the OIC or your rover know if you observe lightning or unusual precipitation or wind/downed trees that may warrant a temporary suspension of play.
  • Be aware of any evacuation plan before threatening weather arrives. Don’t wait for the siren to sound before figuring out where you and your players/spectators are supposed to go when the siren sounds.
  • Whenever possible, let your players know of any impending siren and suspension of play so that they are not surprised by a siren going off in the middle of their backswing. Remember that it takes a while for players to mark the position of their balls and walk/ride in. It also takes time to get spectators safely off the course.
  • If play is suspended, is it for a potentially dangerous situation, e.g., lightning, or for something else, e.g., darkness? If the former, the players must suspend play immediately. If the latter, the players may complete play of the hole if anyone in their group has begun play of the hole. However, a player is not obligated to continue play if he/she does not want to, even though his/her fellow competitors wish to complete the hole. The player who does not wish to continue play of the hole must still remain to fulfill his/her obligations as a marker.
  • Make notes of where the players’ balls were positioned when play was suspended. Suggest to players that they use multiple tees to mark the position of a ball.
  • If a player is in the middle of a search for his/her ball, and then stops searching when play is suspended, take note of the elapsed time for the search and inform the player of the time remaining when he/she resumes the search.

Monitoring Pace of Play

  • When you see a gap between groups, don’t just go and chastise the next group that they are behind pace.  First check your pace of play chart to find out whether or not they are actually behind time par.  If they are on time, leave them alone.  If they are behind, first radio to other Rules Officials to find out if this group had a lost ball, a valid reason for starting late, an extended ruling, a temporary illness, or some other good reason to be behind time par.  If there is no good reason for them to be behind time par, approach them after (not before) they tee off on a hole and let them know that you will be timing them until they are again compliant with time par.
  • When timing a player, do so without looking at your stopwatch so that your timing is accurate.
  • Make sure that you do not start your stopwatch until you are sure that it is the player’s turn to play and he/she is able to do so. For example, if it is the player’s turn to putt, he/she cannot do so (and timing should not commence) until the player putting before him/her has first marked his/her ball and has moved out of the way.

Conducting a Playoff

  • If there is a chance that there may be a playoff, someone should be assigned to go back out ahead of time to the playoff hole(s) to check the holes for damage and to make sure that the bunkers are raked smooth, and loose impediments are removed from the bunkers.
  • At the designated starting hole for the playoff, be prepared to have each of the players draw a number out of a hat to determine the order of play.
  • According to the USGA’s manual “How to Conduct a Competition” (a “must read” and a great resource), normally, there should not be more than five (5) competitors in any group in a playoff.
March 2018 Rules