Fresh off earning a perfect score on the 2016 Rules Exam, Kathryn Belanger, assistant manager of Rules communications for the USGA, sat down to answer a few questions about her role.
How did you first get involved with the game of golf?
Like many of us, I was first introduced to golf by my dad, growing up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. He is an avid golfer and when I showed a small interest in the game early on, he jumped on board and bought me a full set of clubs for my seventh birthday. It blossomed from there.
You played competitively, right?
Yes, I continued to play through high school and had the tremendous opportunity to play for three years at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. I majored in sports management and knew I wanted to stay involved with golf after college, but at the time I wasn’t aware of all the career opportunities in golf administration. The summer before my senior year, I completed an internship with the Illinois Junior Golf Association, which provided a crash course in tournament administration. I knew this was where I wanted to be.
Your first role at the USGA was as a Rules of Golf associate. What were some of the highlights of your time in that position?
Well, the primary responsibility is to serve the thousands of people who reach out to the USGA with Rules questions by phone or email. I learned the Rules of Golf quicker and better than I ever could have imagined. Not just the Rules, but the why behind many of the Rules. This is so important – these principles clarify why a Rule is written and applied in a specific manner.
And this is significant when having conversations with people who are seeking clarity.
Exactly. When someone is struggling with the outcome of a Rule or how a Rule is applied, the principle of the Rule is vital. I love when I’m speaking with someone and they have an “aha moment”. That almost always comes after they reach an understanding of the main concept behind the Rule. Those moments build rapport and relationships, in general.
How long was your longest call?
Probably around an hour! There were a few layers with that one.
So, as the assistant manager of Rules communications, what’s on your plate?
My main responsibility is to oversee the Rules inquiry program and the Rules of Golf associates who keep that engine running. We answer more than 7,000 questions every year from all ends of the spectrum – competitive events to casual weekend matches. Email responses are sent out Monday through Friday and we can be reached by phone any day of the week.
It’s a far-reaching program.
It’s all about serving the golf community. How do we find ways to better engage the general public, with the Rules and in other ways? As we look to the future, we’re focused on continuous improvement within our current program and the development of new tools to deliver answers in a fresh, easy-to-understand way.
What else are you involved with at the USGA?
Apart from a few other formal duties on our team, I collaborate with several other teams at the Association on a regular basis. This past year, we conducted a few live chats in partnership with the Members department. Those were well received and we’re planning a few more later this year. I also love the energy and collaboration we experience at USGA championships. So many passionate people are needed to execute a national championship and I can’t wait to head to the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur championships later this summer.
In your mind, what’s the most challenging Rule of Golf?
I think Rule 2-5 – Doubt as to Procedure; Disputes and Claims is challenging. Understanding claims in match play is a concept many struggle to comprehend at times, including myself.
Most underappreciated Rule?
Rule 12-2 – Lifting Ball for Identification.
Because the Rules are letting you lift your ball anywhere on the course for identification – there’s no reason to play a wrong ball! Just remember to follow the procedure in Rule 12-2.
Lowest round of golf?
81 – still looking to break the magic number.
Annika Sorenstam, Arnold Palmer and my dad.
Best golf hashtag you’ve posted on social media?
#BreakingRules – the irony makes me laugh.
What is one improvement you’d like to see for the game?
A greater appreciation for the Rules. They are vital to the game and an understanding of the Rules makes the game much more enjoyable.
Kathryn Belanger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (908) 326-1934.
To ask a Rules of Golf question, call 908-326-1850 or send an email to email@example.com.