Date: August 28, 2018
Author: Luke Bates

Bates’ Blog: 2018 US Open

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending the 73rd U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek, Birmingham, Alabama as an invited referee.  This was my first time attending an USGA event and I was excited to see how they conducted a Championship of this level.

Following the 30-hour commute from Brisbane to Birmingham I first set eyes on the course on Monday afternoon and was in awe of the Shoal Creek facility and the way the USGA had prepared it for the week. 

As I set off onto the course to inspect the back nine my first observation was how wet the course was from the storms which had hit the region over the past couple of days. 

After leaving the course on Monday evening the weather intensified and as a result the entire facility was closed for practice on Tuesday and half of Wednesday.  In total 200 millimetres of rain had hit the course over the three days. 

When the venue finally re-opened on Wednesday afternoon both players and officials were eager to inspect the course, many for the first time that week.

Luckily on the Monday afternoon I was able to check in with the USGA Rules Office and collect my materials for the week. The additional time in my hotel due to the poor weather allowed me to study the various documents which were supplied, including a 30-page Open Championships Rule Notebook and a hole by hole Rules Notes document.

My assignment for the week was as a stationary referee. I was allocated into a “pod” which was a group of 2 or 3 referees.  The pod was responsible for the management and oversight of one hole each day of the Championship. Our pod was assigned the 18th hole on Thursday and Saturday and the 3rd hole on Friday and Sunday.  Each pod was assigned a pod leader who was primarily responsible for managing the schedule of those in the pod for the week.

I was duly contacted by my pod leader on Tuesday afternoon and we all met on Wednesday to inspect our allocated holes before the Rules Committee Meeting took place later that afternoon. 

Upon inspection it was clear that the course had held up remarkably well with the recent downpour of rain. Most of the hazards were swollen, and casual water had pooled in various locations, however it could all be handled easily under the Rules of Golf.

Each day on our designated hole we had a rules official at the landing area on the fairway and another official at the green. We then rotated amongst these positions throughout the day.  Like any tournament we positioned ourselves out of the players’ way but close enough to be called upon if required. 

The 18th hole was a par 4 surrounded by skyboxes, grandstands and a water hazard which ran up the left-hand side of the green; remarkably I did not have one ruling throughout round one.  The 17th and 18th holes were playing tough though, and as a result several groups fell out of position, so it was important to keep on top of the “Raguzzi” (what we know as a pace of play time sheet) and inform the rovers of the groups which were out of position and over time par.

On Friday I started mid-morning and the forecast had electrical storms expected for the afternoon.  The following 24 hours provided a remarkable chain of events from both a weather and logistical point of view. The following is a summary of the suspensions and resumptions of play:

Friday

2:40pm – Play suspended – dangerous conditions – players and officials to go to the designated evacuation area and stand by for further instruction.

3:20pm – Players and officials informed to head back on course and prepare to resume play.

3:30pm – All players in position – lightning strike – Play suspended – players and officials informed to move immediately to the designated evacuation area and take transport to the Clubhouse.

6:00pm – Players and officials informed to head back on course and prepare to resume play.

6:15pm – Play resumes – note: 2 groups still yet to commence their second round from both the 1st and 10th tees.

7:20pm – Play suspended for the day due to dangerous conditions.

Saturday

7:45am – Play resumes – 1 hour later than the planned start time due to the need to allow ground staff time to clear debris off the course.

12:15pm – Round 2 concludes.

12:45pm – Round 3 commences with groups of threes off the 1st and 10th tees.

8:00pm – Last groups complete round 3.

Sunday

Round 4 commences as planned at 7:40am off the first tee in groups of two.

Due to the nature of how we play golf in open air spaces we often have suspensions of play, however it never ceases to amaze me how well players, staff and volunteers work together to complete a tournament with restricted access to the course.  This doesn’t happen by chance and instead relies of precise planning and clear communication. 

The USGA used a number of mediums to communicate over the week, such as digital and printed signage, two-way radios, emails and text messages.  Throughout the week I received over 20 text messages relating to the weather, suspension and resumption of play.  As a “guest referee” I felt completely informed and aware of the current situation and procedure taking place which was a credit to the USGA. 

The USGA also did a great job in minimising the delay between round 2 and round 3.  It was clear that having only a 30-minute turn around was the difference in finishing play on Saturday.   The coordination of operations and communications to course staff, volunteers, officials and players was significant and the USGA achieved this with what seemed no delays.

After a long Saturday on the course, Sunday seemed like a walk in the park despite the 4-hole play-off.  I was lucky enough to watch the thrilling finish “off duty” as I was assigned to hole 3 that day. 

At the end of the week I had not provided a lot of rulings but the experience of working at a Women’s major Championship with the USGA was considerable.  I am very appreciative of the opportunity and thank Golf Australia and the USGA for the invitation.

By Luke Bates – Golf Queensland’s Golf Operations Manager