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Rulebook: To Tee Or Not To tee

by Rich McLean, Golf Canada Referee

As a guest recently on the “Flagstick TeeTalk” 100th podcast, I was asked to recount any weird situations or rulings I’ve been involved in. To the chagrin of podcast host, Stefan Thedorf (and to the thinly veiled delight of co-host, Scott MacLeod) the incident I chose to recount involved him directly. 

To set the scene, the first hole at eQuinelle Golf Club is a sweeping dogleg left of 400+ yards, bordered by a pond that runs all the way down the left side of the hole. The tee shot is intimidating, to say the least. Add in the pressure of tournament play, and it can be downright brain-numbing. The far edge of this pond is also usually home to tall stands of reeds and bulrushes, making it nearly impossible to see if a ball has crossed the far margin of the penalty area and come to rest safely on the other side. With this in mind, we set up a drop zone for players to utilize if their opening volleys don’t manage to make the journey across, in order to help keep things moving along. 

It was the first round of the two-round Flagstick Open, and we were already knee-deep in the day’s tee sheet so the course was well populated with competitors. As Head Referee, I was already out on the course doing some final checks of the last few holes before the opening groups made the turn. I get a call on my radio from Scott (who is also our tournament starter) asking if I was anywhere near the first tee, and could I come over. I wasn’t too far and said I’d be there shortly. When I arrived at the tee, the conversation went something like this… 

Scott: “I’m not absolutely sure, but I think a player teed up a ball in the drop area and played.”

Me: “I’m sorry, what??” 

Scott: “I think a player teed a ball in the drop area, instead of dropping.” 

Me: “Wow, okay. Any idea who it was?” 

Scott: “Not sure. I was getting the next group ready to go and I turned around and could swear I saw someone hitting a driver from the drop zone.” (the drop zone is quite a way forward from the starting area) 

After a few seconds of soaking this in I’m off in my cart, around the pond, and down the first hole. I ask the group approaching the first green if any of them used the drop zone. “No, not us.”, is the reply. Okay then, off to the second hole. The next group of three I encounter has just finished hitting their tee shots from the second tee… 

Me: “Excuse my guys, one second. Did any of you use the drop zone on one?”

Stefan: “Yeah, I did.”

Me: “By any chance did you tee your ball up?” 

Stefan (sheepishly): “Um, yeah.” 

Me: “You do realize it’s a DROP zone, right?” 

Stefan: “I sort of thought about that after I got back to the fairway, but we just wanted to keep moving so that we didn’t delay the guys behind.” 

It turns out that Stefan’s opening tee shot was close to the far edge of the pond, so he and the rest of the group had gone around to see if his ball had cleared. Realizing that it hadn’t, he had made his way back to the drop zone alone to play another ball while his fellow competitors waited up ahead. 

I explained to him that there would be some sort of penalty that would apply, at least two strokes anyway, but I wasn’t sure exactly because I’d honestly never seen anything like this before. I advised him to keep playing, and I’d get back to him by the end of the round at the latest, at the scorer’s table. (If it had ended up being a disqualification I would have gotten back to him much sooner, but I wasn’t going to stick that in his head at that moment.) 

It took us quite a while to figure out what the penalty should be. As I said, I’d never seen anything like it before, and neither had the other referees there. Eventually, it boiled down to a two-stroke penalty for Stefan.

We were both glad that he was able to stick around for the rest of the tournament, and I was glad I had a great story to tell for years to come.

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