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Staying Ahead March 15, 2016 By John Van der Borght, USGA

Thorough preparation prior to a competition is key to ensuring that everything runs smoothly from start to finish. (USGA/John Mummert)

For the Committee, the most important part of any tournament is the time before it starts. If the Committee has prepared properly, the tournament should proceed smoothly with little or no potential for embarrassment or allegations of favoritism. 

There are many areas where a small amount of planning can pay huge dividends. These include:

  • Making sure all Local Rules are in writing and available for the players.
  • Preparing the course.
  • Defining how ties will be broken.
  • Defining the starting and scoring areas.

Notice to Players

You should always create a Notice to Players that describes all the Local Rules you are using. Many players may assume you are using certain Local Rules such as granting relief for embedded balls through the green or permitting the use of distance-measuring devices, but these must be documented and communicated to the players. Go through Appendix I of the Rules of Golf and the Decisions on the Rules of Golf under Rule 33-8 to see what Local Rules might be appropriate for your tournament. If you don’t specify these Rules, you may either have to penalize a number of players or give the appearance that you are favoring them by not penalizing them at the expense of those who followed the Rules specified.

Preparing the Course

Failing to ensure that you have properly marked the course can result in confusion among players during the round. This can lead to disagreements and unwanted delays as players attempt to determine how to proceed. All boundary lines and water hazards should be properly marked to ensure that no player accidentally plays from a wrong place due to insufficient information.

The day before your tournament, take a couple of passes around the course to look for areas where you would grant relief without penalty. The first time you go around, don’t mark anything. Otherwise, you might mark something on the first hole and then realize that, relative to the rest of the course, the condition isn’t abnormal and you would need to mark significantly more areas than desired. Then go around the course again and mark the truly abnormal areas.

Whether you are picking the hole locations or the superintendent is doing so, making sure that they are in positions that make sense relative to the architecture of the hole and the ability of your players is crucial. Locating a hole 4 yards behind a bunker when your players are hitting 3-woods into the green would mean nobody could get the ball close to the hole. Also, having a hole location 4 paces from the edge of a green that runs into a hollow would cause backups with players who are high-handicappers.

Defining How Ties are Broken

Failing to define how a tie will be broken before the competition can cause players to be upset when they finish in a tie and you suddenly have to decide what to do. If you are going to have a playoff, let the players know so that anyone who is tied for the lead will be available. You may also decide that you are going to compare score cards to see who won, as defined in Appendix I of the Rules of Golf. If so, let the players know before the event. If you fail to do so, a player who loses the “matching of the cards” may feel that there was some level of unfairness in the decision.

Defining Starting and Scoring Areas

If a player is not at the starting tee at the time of starting and ready to play, he or she is subject to penalty.  In order to know whether a player is at the tee on time, you need to define the limits of what is considered to be the teeing area. In order to accommodate players who are using carts, you should make sure that the limit includes the cart path so that a player near his cart is still considered to be on time. You could rope off the area, define it in writing or paint a line around the area. This way, if you have to penalize a player for being late to the tee, you can show him the defined area.

Similarly, the scoring area in stroke play should be defined. Once a player has returned the score card and left the scoring area, no changes can be made. Therefore, the defining of the scoring area is crucial in cases where a player made an error on their score card or forgot to sign it. If you have a scoring tent or table, you might want to consider putting a rope around it. If you are using a room or the pro shop, that room or the pro shop could be your scoring area. Just be sure to define it ahead of time so that you can avoid unfortunate incidents.

Be Prepared and You Will be Successful

Preparing yourself for a tournament is crucial to ensuring that you will have minimal problems. Because of your thorough preparation, players will want to play in your events and will speak highly of the professionalism with which you conduct them.

John Van der Borght is the manager of Rules of Golf for the USGA. Email him at

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