I received the official invitation from the R&A on 29th March 2016 to referee at the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon. To say I was excited at the prospect of refereeing at arguably the best golf Major is an understatement.
Accompanying the invitation was a document for Rules Officials, “A Brief Guide for Those Attending the Open as a Rules Official for the First Time”, which proved most helpful. Also, there was a list of all Rules Officials, some 75 of them, from 22 countries with 18 first timers. Andrew Langford- Jones from the Australasian PGA Tour, who I had worked with on many occasions, was the only other Australian and I was sure that he would provide any help I might need as a first timer at The Open.
In the lead up to The Open my wife and I spent a few days in Glasgow, then on the Monday of The Open week transferred to our hotel in Irvine, which is about a 20 minute drive to the Royal Troon course. Most of the referees stayed at the hotel in Irvine and travelled to and from the course on a regular shuttle bus service.
Monday: Arrived at the course early afternoon and walked about 12 holes with Dave Mangan from NZ Golf, more just to get familiar with the layout and surroundings. I also had an appointment to collect the uniform, shoes and umbrella. Loaded up it was then back to the hotel. With all this additional luggage I could see it might be a problem in the suitcase department, even though I had allowed some extra space.
Tuesday: Back to the course, I obtained a copy of the Draft Additional Local Rules, Local Rules for Temporary Immovable Obstructions (TIOs), Grandstands, Metal Fencing and Elevated Cables, and the Hole-by-Hole Rules Guide and set off for a full walk of the course on my own. The weather was fine and mild and I hoped that these conditions would remain for the week as it made life very pleasant on the course.
Wednesday: All Referees attended a Rules Committee Meeting in the morning with a range of topics covered including Local Rules, Conditions of Competition, Course Marking, Pace of Play, Suspension of Play, Rules Assignments, and the Weather etc. The Meteorologist did not have all good news for the week. This was followed by a Course Walk in groups of six, with a Leader to provide instruction on any possible problem areas and to answer questions from the group. One of the major areas that would require close attention was the grandstand and metal fencing area between holes 1 and 18, and it was comforting to know that there would be a R & A Referee permanently stationed in this zone to assist with any rulings required. The Metal Fencing local rule was quite involved and included an additional option if the ball lies on the outside of the fencing and within four club-lengths of it. There were also four Exceptions under this Rule. Phew!
Thursday: My first assignment was with Group No 2 with a tee-off time of 06:46 am. The players included one of the Australian Olympians, Marcus Fraser, Steve Alker from NZ and Sanghee Lee from Korea. After collecting the Final Version of the Additional Local Rules and a Radio it was off to the first tee. By now I was feeling a few butterflies as I walked through the tunnel to the tee. Standing on the tee looking out over the Firth of Clyde on a beautiful crisp sunny morning, with the bank of grandstands lining the adjoining 18th hole stretching down the left hand side of the 1st fairway for over 200 metres, was enough to take your breath away. The players were yet to arrive so I chatted to the Starter, who was also doing his job for the first time, following the retirement of the iconic Ivor Robson, who it seemed had been the Official Starter for an eternity. The grandstand for the first tee was quite full for this time of morning, but with local Royal Troon member, Colin Montgomerie in Group 1, many had come out in support. The players eventually arrived, and who I suspect were also a tad nervous. After introductions I stepped aside and waited for the action to begin. About this time I was secretly wishing/hoping that the players’ drives would find the fairway, as I didn’t fancy any tricky rulings in amongst the metal fencing to start with. Thankfully, all was well as the three players found the fairway with their drives and second shots on the green. All good so far. The second hole was similar with the Korean birdieing the first two holes. The first hiccup came on the 4th hole when I was requested by one of the roving referees to ask the players to pick up the pace a bit as they had fallen a hole behind. Not having closed the gap sufficiently, the group was then put ‘on the clock’ on the 5th hole. From there on it was smooth sailing until the 10th hole where player Lee needed assistance with an unplayable lie. The group fell behind again on the 13th hole and was subsequently put on the clock again. One player was given a ‘bad time’ on the 16th hole and another a ‘bad time’ on the 17th tee. Although the group completed their round in only 3 minutes over their time par, the roving referees will generally monitor those early groups fairly closely to ensure they do not lose time as this can impact back through the field. Just as an aside and to finish off the day, while having lunch with GA Chairman, John Hopkins in the dining room, who would be at the next table but HRH Prince Andrew, a former Captain of the R & A. (OK that was namedropping).
Friday: Well, from the front of the field one day to the back the next day. Group 51 at 16:05. The weather had taken a turn for the worse overnight, cold, wet and windy conditions now prevailed. Someone said they had had their summer last Tuesday! My group of players were Aussie Nathan Holman, Dave Coupland from England and Phachara Khongwatmai from Thailand. After getting a reasonably easy ride the previous day in terms of rules situations, today was totally the opposite. In our Referees On-Course Folder is provided a Rules Incidents card to record occurrences during the round. With provision to record seven incidents my card was full by the end of the day. Some of these were; a check for an embedded ball, ball lying against cables, unplayable ball, casual water, GUR, TIO and time expiring for a ball search. With very overcast conditions and rain there was some discussion whether it had become too dark to play when we were on the 15th hole, but play continued, finally completing the round at 9:00 pm, some 25 minutes over the time par.
Saturday: I was assigned as an Observer for the group of Charl Schwartzel and Bill Haas, meaning my primary role was to assist the Referee and advise him of any potential rulings required in the landing areas. Things got off to an amusing start when Bill Haas had teed his ball up on the 1st tee waiting for the Starter’s introduction, which came with “on the tee from South Africa, Charl Schwartzel”. Much to the amusement of the players and spectators, Haas then sheepishly removed himself and his ball from the tee to allow Schwartzel to have the honour. Would Ivor Robson have allowed that to happen? The round was fairly uneventful as far as rulings go with only one minor ruling required. The highlight came on the par-3 8th ‘Postage Stamp’ hole when Haas holed a shot out of the treacherous front bunker followed by Schwartzel holing a long putt for birdie as well. This hole caused many players grief during the Championship.
Sunday: I was assigned to Group 21 of Jason Dufner (USA) and Ben An (Korea), roughly in the middle of the field. I had an anxious moment on the 1st tee when Dufner’s tee shot appeared to be going well left of the metal fencing at the end of the grandstands and therefore could require some assistance. I took off quickly to try and assess the situation, brushing up on the notes for metal fencing on the way. As I reached the fairway bunker I noticed a ball lying in it. A nearby Marshall then advised that Dufner’s ball had ricocheted off the metal fence back into the bunker. A tricky ruling did not eventuate. I was only called on once during the round to assist with relief where the ball was lying against a bunch of cables. The pace of play from this group was exceptional with the round being completed in 21 minutes under the time par. It was a pleasure to watch players play in this manner; why can’t they all play that way?
Immediately following the final group completing the 18th hole the presentation ceremony took place around the green. The Referees were invited to join the ceremony, congregating adjacent to the green. What an amazing final round duel between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson, with Stenson holding on for his first Major victory.