PGA/USGA Rules Workshops: Learning The Game

By Christina Lance
February 1, 2011

Attendees at the PGA-USGA Rules Workshop held recently at Golf House in Far Hills, N.J., absorb information from the instructor. Workshops are held throughout the country and are taught by Rules experts from the PGA of America and the USGA. (John Mummert/USGA)

Rule 27-2: Provisional ball. Rule 3-3: Doubt as to procedure. Rule 13-2: Improving lie, area of intended stance or swing, or line of play.

The understanding of the Rules of Golf is a crucial element to the playing and enjoyment of the game of golf. However, Rules such as 27-2, 3-3 and 13-2 can often overwhelm and confuse those who do not have a full appreciation of their intentions.

Since 1975, the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America have offered joint PGA/USGA Rules of Golf Workshops as a means for golfers across the country, both professional and amateur, to become more familiar with the Rules.

“When you open a new game for the first time what is the first thing you do – look inside the box and read the rules. The same goes for other sports,” said Dean Alexander, a PGA professional who also serves as an instructor for Rules workshops. “The ‘regular guy’ who plays golf without knowing the Rules is not really playing golf. It would help them better understand the game, be of assistance to those they play with and know what is going on when watching rulings on TV.”

Led by seasoned Rules officials affiliated with both the USGA and the PGA of America, these two- and four-day workshops provide classroom education, interactive analysis and discussion of the Rules and how they are correctly applied. PowerPoint slides accompany each Rule, and fresh videos and photos of Rules incidents from various professional tours and in USGA championships add to the learning experience. Question-and-answer sessions also enhance the participants’ immersion in the Rules of Golf.

Who attends workshops? 

Rules workshops are not just for professional golfers. The first workshop of 2011 drew a wide range of people to the USGA’s Golf House headquarters in Far Hills, N.J.: state and regional Rules officials; PGA professionals; retired school teachers; NCAA and high-school coaches; even a former LPGA player and a member of the USGA Executive Committee.

Workshops also are not one-time-only events. One attendee participated in his first workshop in the 1970s under the direction of USGA Executive Director P.J. Boatwright and four-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Betsy Rawls. Several Golf House attendees were participating in their 15th Rules workshop, including Jamie Conkling, the executive director of the Virginia State Golf Association and a past PGA Tour Rules official.

“It’s a very good learning exercise,” said Conkling, who particularly appreciated the videos interspersed throughout the sessions. “I think it keeps your mind working overtime, which is very important.”

Kari Williams thought she knew the Rules of Golf until a friend told her that she could not remove a piece of grass from her ball. The head women’s golf coach at Columbia University in New York City, Williams has now attended two Rules workshops. She quickly came to realize that, despite her profession, she was not as familiar with the Rules as she thought.

“Immediately I realized that I didn’t know the definitions well enough,” said Williams. “I didn’t know the technical terms, and I had to look things up in the book. So immediately I realized I didn’t know them enough.”

Who teaches workshops? 

A PGA of America instructor and a USGA instructor working in tandem lead all Rules workshops. To qualify as a PGA instructor, PGA professionals must be a current or past member of the PGA of America’s Rules of Golf Committee. USGA instructors are culled from the USGA Rules and Competitions Department staff, as well as past and present members of the Rules of Golf and Executive Committees.

“The instructors are people who have demonstrated a mastery of the material through being tested in the [Rules] exam and as on-course officials at USGA and PGA of America championships,” explained David Staebler, the USGA’s director of Rules education.

Alexander, the head PGA professional at Atlanta National Golf Club in Milton, Ga., has participated in more than 25 Rules workshops as a student, coordinator and instructor dating to 1983. What brings him back again and again? Alexander gives the credit to his love of teaching, which he has put to use at 14 workshops.

“Teaching and helping others has always been a strength, something I enjoy and feel I’m good at,” said Alexander. “I love teaching golf and teaching the Rules just followed that love.”

Preparations for Rules workshops begin long before the final schedule is completed. Alexander begins his teaching preparations three months before Rules workshop season by reading “Decisions on the Rules of Golf,” a 500-plus-page tome that explains the reasoning behind every Rule and clause in the Rules of Golf.

Staebler and his staff are already planning workshop dates and locations for 2012, a year that will certainly bring heightened attention to the Rules due to the 2011 Quadrennial Rules Conference. At that time, representatives from the USGA, which governs the game of golf in the United States and Mexico, and The Royal and Ancient, the ruling body for all other countries, will culminate a four-year review process to discuss and approve any updates to the Rules of Golf, which will come into effect January 1, 2012.

Why attend a workshop? 

Many people who attend PGA/USGA Rules of Golf Workshops hope to officiate at golf competitions at the local, regional and national levels. In order to officiate at the U.S. Open, Women’s Open, Senior Open, Amateur and Women’s Amateur, one must have achieved at least a 92 on the Rules exam within the previous four years. A score of 75 or better will qualify one for a Rules assignment at all other USGA championships.

Other people just hope to better understand the Rules so they can better their game – and perhaps one-up their competitors in their weekly round of golf.

“Outside of people who are going to be involved in tournament administration or competitive golf, we have a lot of people who attend these Rules workshops just because they want to know a little more about the Rules of Golf,” said Staebler. “There are a lot of people who are interested in knowing the Rules better, and a few who are also interested in winning a bar bet at their course after a round of golf with friends.”

Shannon Rouillard, a USGA Rules of Golf Associate who attended the Golf House workshop, saw it as an opportunity to strengthen her already strong knowledge of the Rules of Golf. Rouillard, who answers Rules-related questions on a daily basis for the USGA’s Rules hotline, likened the Rules to an onion and its many layers.

“You get a good base of knowledge, but there’s always another layer with more information,” said Rouillard.

Williams was successful in improving her Rules exam score and is excited to share that news with her collegiate players. She also found that her participation in a Rules workshop nurtured a deeper respect for the Rules of Golf and their role on the golf course.

“What it allowed me to do is realize, you’ve got to study the Rules,” said Williams. “They’re there for a reason and they’re very specific and they’re supposed to be your friend. I realized right away that I needed in-depth study and application.”

“Before getting into the business 20-plus years ago, I never attended anything even though I played golf,” added Conkling. “Then you really find out what game you were playing and what game you are playing.”

Lew Blakey, a past USGA Executive Committee member who co-taught the Golf House workshop with Alexander, echoed Rouillard’s sentiment, describing the nuances of the game and explaining that things are often not what they seem.

“When you look at something for the first time you see one thing,” said Blakey during his opening remarks. “But when you come back and look at something again with some Rules experience, you see something different. There are nuances in the Rules of Golf that will not be apparent the first time you see them.”

If you are interested in attending a Rules of Golf workshop there are still openings in a number of them to be held between now and the end of March.  To learn the particulars of when and where and to register go to http://www.usga.org/RulesWorkshops/registrationinfo.asp 

Christina Lance is the USGA’s coordinator of championship communications. E-mail questions or comments to clance@usga.org. 

 

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