Ben Schade, the most recent addition to the Rules department as a Rules of Golf associate, sat down to discuss his new role.
How did you first become involved with golf?
My involvement with golf began at North Jersey Country Club when I was a high school student looking for a job as a caddie. Little did I know, this job would turn into a passion for the game of golf. Soon after I began caddieing, I was hooked on the game and couldn’t stand being away from the golf course.
How did this passion lead you to the USGA?
Prior to joining the USGA, I was very fortunate to work as the first assistant golf professional at Montclair Golf Club in West Orange, New Jersey. In my five years spent at Montclair, I had the pleasure of working for a great membership who supported my career goals from day one. As a PGA professional in the New Jersey Section PGA, I was given the opportunity to serve as a Rules official for several associations, including the New Jersey Section PGA. In an effort to provide some Rules of Golf education, I am currently serving on the NJPGA Junior Golf Committee.
And you’re still a member of The PGA of America?
Yes. In a lot of ways, The PGA of America is like a fraternity of professionals. In other words, it’s a family of professionals that love the game of golf and work hard to grow the game. Being a part of the family keeps me connected with so many men and women around the country that share the same passion and goals.
What sparked your interest in the Rules of Golf?
For better or worse, my interest in the Rules was sparked when I was unable to provide my members with answers to their Rules questions. Not knowing the answers made me want to know the answers and ever since, I can’t keep my head out of the Decisions book.
Having a Decisions book nearby is vital now that you’ve joined the Rules department as a Rules associate. Can you explain what this role entails?
As a Rules associate, my primary focus is responding to Rules of Golf inquiries via phone and email. It’s my responsibility to make sure individuals who contact us not only get their question answered, but also better understand the Rules. Our department receives over 7,000 inquires each year, which keeps us all busy, without any dull moments.
Now that you’ve been in the Rules associate position for a few months, what’s been the most surprising aspect of the role?
I’d have to say the most surprising aspect of my role is the volume of questions. Before starting with the USGA, 7,000 inquiries didn’t sound like much, but now being involved in those inquires, 7,000 is a lot!
What has been the most enjoyable aspect?
The most enjoyable aspect of my job is the variety of people I get to interact with on a daily basis. Not only within the USGA, but I am in constant communication with people from all over the golf community. It’s so great how I can talk in Rules lingo one minute and then pick up the phone again and explain the Rules from a beginner’s perspective. Interacting and serving the golf community in this manner is very rewarding.
What is the hardest Rule to explain over the phone and why?
Well, although not a Rule, I’d have to say determining the nearest point of relief. We can certainly explain the concept and provide resources (Decisions, videos on USGA.Org, etc.), but over the phone, we can’t point to the nearest point of relief. Additionally, it can be a tough concept to remember it is the nearest point of relief, not the nicest point.
What’s the craziest question you’ve gotten so far?
Can a person wear a wedding band while playing golf, if they are not married?
What’s your favorite Rule?
Rule 3-3 – Doubt as To Procedure in Stroke Play.
Rule 3-3 is like a competitor’s insurance policy. It’s there if you need it. If you have any doubt, play two balls in accordance with the Rule. When else do you get two chances to get something correct? If more people took advantage of this privilege, I’m sure a few penalties would be avoided.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to learn the Rules better?
While it’s not the most exciting thing, before diving into the Rules, learn the definitions. Without knowing the definitions, the Rules won’t make much sense.
What is your dream foursome?
Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Paula Creamer.
What is your lowest round of golf?
I shot 68 once in high school and I haven’t been able to break par on 18 holes since. Hopefully, one day soon!
What’s your favorite course that you’ve played?
My favorite golf course so far would have to be the River Course at the Kiawah Island Club. Between the fantastic layout of the golf course and the views around you, I’m not sure how much better that day could have gotten.
What is one improvement for the game of golf you would like to see?
With ‘Tee It Forward’ being a joint initiative between The PGA of America and the USGA, I would love to see more players, regardless of ability, playing from a forward teeing ground. Not only would it improve pace of play, but it would, in most cases, make the experience much more enjoyable.