NZ Golf Inc.'s Phil Aickin gives his views on issues surrounding the rules.
The very successful McKayson New Zealand Women's Open produced a fantastic winner in Canadian Brooke Henderson. It was no surprise that the fickle Auckland weather played its part and the event was extended to Monday, which was a controversial decision impacting on players travel and accommodation.
The logistics became a headache for tournament organisers, but it was heartening to see so many volunteers and spectators return for the late finish.
Windross Farm, which has only been open for a year, proved to be an excellent test of the player's talents and designers Phil Tataurangi and Brett Thomson, along with the members, should be very proud of how this new course played. So too should the greens staff who worked huge hours both before and during the tournament to produce a highquality surface regardless of the rain that eventually affected the tournament.
But what of the rules and pace of play that went with the championship?
As one of only seven rules officials, it was a busy four and a half days. The players tend to err on the side of caution and are reluctant to proceed with a straight forward relief situation, instead calling for a rules official through the scoring network. Even taking relief from casual water, which was prevalent on the final day, required our help. The speed of play was horrible at times and the wait for a rules official to arrive added to the time that 18 holes was taking. Whilst the LPGA have their pace of play policy, it just doesn't seem to work and only having the seven of us didn't help.
In total I, might have dealt with 20 rulings on each day but there are three that stand out.
The first was in the second round on the 12th hole. Due to the fairways being a little young, the tournament rule was a one club length, mark, lift, clean and place on the closely mown area of the hole being played. One of the top Americans wasn't sure if her ball was on the closely mown area, or just in the rough, and after my close inspection I showed her what I thought was the fairway line and advised that she would have to play the ball as it lay. As the ball was on a downhill slope, very close to a bunker, a place was going to provide her with a much easier shot, so she wanted to debate the decision. This wasted time and I felt that it required one of the regular LPGA Tour official's involvement so I made the call for assistance. Fortunately, I was correct and it was dealt with swiftly although the player still wanted to debate the situation.
On Saturday, the course was hit with very strong winds in the afternoon. One of the tournament favourites, playing the par-5 14th hole, found her drive in such a position that due to the wind she wanted to start her ball on a line well right of where she wanted her ball to finish. But on this line, was a television tower and she therefore wanted intervention relief. In professional golf, many temporary immovable obstructions (TIOs) are erected including grandstands, marquees and towers, but they need to meet two requirements for relief to be granted. The first is that the TIO is directly between the ball and the landing area and the second on the line of play. This ball only met the second requirement, so once again I was in a position where I denied relief. And once again the player wanted to be confrontational and debate the decision and due to the player's attitude, I needed to again request that an LPGA rules official take over the ruling. In amateur golf, we never have to deal with TIOs, but I was positive that I understood the interpretation of the rule and it was pleasing when I was proven correct. But, once again the player wanted to stand and debate the ruling and was raising rulings from previous events, once again wasting time. In my opinion there was a case for Rule 6-7 to be invoked which involves a penalty for undue delay.
On Sunday, we were hit with persistent rain and eventually the greens could take no more and puddles started to appear. I put the call out for a squeegee to the 15th green and the lead LPGA rules official confirmed that we could employ Rule 25-1b(iii) which allows a player to move around the casual water on the putting surface. While waiting for the squeegee it was the best way to keep play moving, but to my surprise, one of the American players was surprised to learn that this was an option. Standing in disbelief, she said she had never heard of that rule before and wanted to make sure I was correct. Fortunately, on my confirmation she accepted my answer and didn't want to involve the LPGA rules officials on this occasion.
Next year Windross will be fully grown in and I am sure we will play the lie which will help from a rules perspective. And hopefully the players will be more accepting to the local rules officials involved and the LPGA return with a better pace of play policy.