Rules and Rants

‘Inside The Ropes’ at The Masters with Canada’s rules authority

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Dale Jackson (Graig Abel/ Golf Canada)

See Victoria’s Dale Jackson playing at his home course of Royal Colwood and you would not be remiss to think you are watching just another solid club level amateur golfer.

In this case appearances would be deceiving.

Jackson has been involved in giving back to the game as a rules official since becoming interested in this vocation more than 15 years ago. Since then he has risen through the ranks to become a Level Four Rules Official and serving as Managing Director of Rules and Competitions for British Columbia Golf from 2003 to 2007.

More recently, Jackson has been active at the national level and since 2013 has been the Chair of the Rules of Golf and Amateur Status Committee for Golf Canada.

Within Canada, this involves heading a group of volunteers who deal with issues ranging from ruling on applications for amateur status reinstatement to developing ways to increase the number of certified rules officials.

Internationally, this means that Jackson is intimately involved with deciding rules issues at the highest levels representing Golf Canada on the Joint Rules Committee and as an Advisory Member of the R&A’s Rules Committee.

Together with representatives of the R&A and USGA, they are responsible for the recent rules changes from the anchoring ban to the relaxation of Rule 18-2 concerning when a player is deemed to have caused a ball to move after addressing it. (Ed. Note: see link for a complete list of the major changes in the just released Rules book).

Another responsibility that goes along with being the Chair is serving as a Rules Official at three of the four “Majors” in golf.

Late in 2015, Inside Golf’s Jeff Sutherland was able to listen to Mr. Jackson speak about officiating on golf’s biggest stages and ask him a few questions.

inside GOLF: First can you explain what is actually entailed in being the Rules Chair for Golf Canada in terms of your role internationally?

Dale Jackson: What it means is that a number of really great opportunities have come my way in the last three years. I go to the U.K. for meetings 3-4 times a year, usually at St. Andrews. It also means that I serve as an advisory member of the R&A Rules Committee. As a member of the Joint Rules Committee, which is a 7 person committee, we are responsible for administering the rules of golf around the world. But what’s really cool is that I get invited to officiate at The Masters, The U.S. Open, The Open, and several other tournaments.

iG: You have been at the last three Masters. What is it like to spend a week at Augusta?

DJ: Well the first thing, getting there is not simple. Getting to Augusta takes three airplane flights but once you get there it’s sort of a wonderland for a week. I was so excited that I took my iPhone out and took a video clip driving down Magnolia Lane and it lived up to billing. Tuesday and Wednesday, all the rules officials arrive… 60 or 70, a lot of rules officials and we all arrive and take the time to walk around inside the ropes… and a lot of places, I am sure, the players have never been. One thing about The Masters, there are a lot of social events and the first Event of the week is “Canada Nite.” Everybody rents a house and the house that Golf Canada has rented for countless years recently sold but the original owner made it a condition of sale that he still sort of “owns” it for that week and gets the revenue. And on the Tuesday, Golf Canada invites everyone to a backyard BBQ and literally people from around the world show up. It’s the one informal night of the week… jeans, shorts.

iG: When do you get going on the officiating side?

DJ: Well, there are many informal traditions during the Masters. One for the rules officials is the Wednesday morning meeting which is set for 7:30 AM but actually starts at 7:25. Fred Ridley, The Championship Chair goes over the conditions of competition which does not really change at Augusta. The Masters is made up of literally hundreds of little traditions and this meeting starting five minutes early is one of them.

iG: What happens next?

DJ: We are free for the rest of the day and Wednesday night is the first of the formal occasions and these… I am not complaining… but your stomach needs a vacation after the week of the Masters. The first is a cocktail party out on the lawn behind the Augusta clubhouse and you chat with people from around the world. The Thursday night the USGA holds a reception at Augusta CC which is older than Augusta National and shares a boundary with them. Very beautiful, very large clubhouse. Friday night the PGA of America holds one in an old Church that has been converted into a civic centre…also very high end. Saturday night we (Golf Canada) go to a reception that Golf Australia puts on in a house that they rent. There are others, three or four every night but you can’t go to them all. As I said, your stomach takes a beating. It’s all very, very good but it takes its toll.

iG: Still, it can’t be all cocktails and canapes. You do do some officiating. How is it decided where and when you will work?

DJ: Each day we are assigned to a different hole and now, over the three years, I have been on ten holes. And you are with anywhere from one to five other rules officials. For example, Hole #13 has six.

iG: What exactly are your responsibilities?

DJ: (smiling) Basically your job is to be out of the sight lines of the TV Cameras and stay inconspicuous… unless the players want a ruling. And aside from something like what happened with Tiger Woods a couple of years ago, it’s what we term a very ‘clean’ golf course… and anything that causes trouble for a rules official has been dealt with long ago and there aren’t many rulings.

iG: You’re supposed to be invisible?

DJ: The Masters is unique in that all you ever see are players and caddies. You don’t see walking scorers, you don’t see walking standards, you do not see photographers. You never see rules officials unless we are called out and even then, cameras have instructions to cut away. Our job is to stay out of the way.

iG: Has anything ever gone wrong?

DJ: I think we all remember in 2013 when Tiger took an illegal drop when his ball went into the water. The next year I was assigned to that hole, #15, and I and two good friends from the R&A and PGA and we, like other officials, were going to make sure we did not let anybody, especially Tiger, take any illegal drop on 15 while we were there.

The really difficult part for me is that the three of us take positions, one more of the hundreds of traditions are the places that you stand, and 2 of the 3… one is up here (gesturing) in the shade of these trees, one is here out of camera range and the third one is down here, which is green side on the left side of 15, a pretty famous setting, and on the day I was assigned there, Saturday, the hole is always cut far over on the hard left so, as I mentioned earlier, one of the things you must (do) is stay out of sight.

So, as we switched around it was my turn for the last third of the field (the leaders,) so I looked around and asked myself, ‘Where am I going to stand and where am I going to sit?’ There are TV cameras everywhere… I counted them and there were nine cameras aimed at the green!. I had to kind of guess, ‘Where am I going to go?’ Well… I guessed wrong.

I watched a replay later that day and at the house later that night and I had picked just about the worst place. I got into the camera line of the main camera for showing the putts on #15 and time and again there I was either standing or sitting. Thats not a good thing to do… you don’t want to raise your head above the bunker, as it were, at Augusta …you want to be very inconspicuous at Augusta. I was expecting to be called into the office by Fred Ridley the next morning. I wasn’t… and I am not sure whether he just did not happen to see the coverage or whether he was just being kind. I’m really not sure, but I expect the latter. Anyway, that was an uncomfortable moment.

iG: Are there any other rules you must follow?

DJ: One of the other peculiarities (of Augusta) is that we have to wear jackets and ties which is interesting sometimes. Spring time in Georgia is a wonderful time to be there but it can get warm. On Thursday of this year, the temperature crept up past 80F, we all started to sweat, it went past 85 and you can imagine a tie and jacket when it’s above 85 and a lot of the places we have to stand are in the sun. At that point Fred came on the radio and said jackets could come off and it was the most welcome thing I ever heard on a radio!

iG: Talk about some of the other things, traditions that don’t change?

DJ: One of the other things are the volunteers. There must be 2,000 and they come back year after year and do the same job year after year. This guy (shows picture) who is a forecaddie has probably been doing this job for 20 years. This marshall probably has been doing it for 30 years. Two of my favourite stories from Augusta involve these volunteers.

On Hole #2 which is a par five, there are two of these forecaddies in the white suits.I met them there my first year, their names are David and Norman. One of them lives in New York and one of them lives in Minnesota. They went to university together, I think 37 years ago now. One is a doctor, one has a greeting card company in Manhattan. This will be the 37th year that they have done this job together. Same place.

The other involves my first year. I met a guy… his name I forget, he was 70 years old and Augusta has a policy that you have to retire when you are 70 and this was his last year, his 39th, but they were allowing his son to take over his place. (At Augusta), you can hand down your volunteer post.

iG: Have you ever made any rulings?

DJ: I mentioned that most of the rulings are straightforward. I have done water hazard rulings, the cross paths at Augusta are Ground Under Repair so we will get rulings from that, for Rules Officials that is very straightforward stuff. For the rulings, more have involved players wanting to get relief and me not giving them relief. They will say ‘That’s GUR’ and I will say, “Other than the crosswalks we don’t have ground under repair at Augusta.

iG: What is your highlight of the week?

DJ: Day Four, Sunday. Everybody’s and my favourite day of the Masters. We still have a hole to work but the invited officials like myself tend to be given the assignments that are on the front nine or early on the back nine and that allows my favourite part of the whole week. The leaders maybe still have nine holes to play. Everybody goes back to our committee room, a large room and there are two really large TVs, comfortable chairs and a bar. And the bar does not really get used until the end but everybody drifts back and you get to watch the finish of the Masters with all of the best rules officials in the world, people who have become your friends over the years. You finally get a chance to sit down, have a beer with them and watch like any other fan. My first year was the year that Adam Scott won and I sat with three Australians and it was just… they were so excited to see Adam Scott win, the final putt was very dramatic, then the playoff with Angel Cabrera. All of them were crying by the end. It was really something and as I said that’s my favourite part of the week.

iG: Is that the end?

DJ: The whole week ends with the prize ceremony. You see Butler Cabin on TV, that finishes and they do the real ceremony out on the putting green. Everybody, all the rules officials, the invitees from all the Golf Federations from around the world file up and the green jacket is presented to the winner with all the fans ringing around. It’s quite an experience to be part of it.

iG: Tell us five things we may not know if we have not been to Augusta?

DJ: First the property they own is just enormous. The golf course is 160 acres and they have more than 500 I think. They have parking, they have so much stuff. It’s so complicated that one day I was trying to drive out the back and got lost. Eventually I found a security guy and he had to direct me out of the golf course. They have also just purchased more land and there is some buzz about some new big change in how they are going to put on the Masters.

Second, The Masters is described as not just being the best run golf tournament in the world but as the best run sporting event in the world and I can’t imagine how that cannot be true. It cannot be run any better than it is. Everything is clockwork, everything is precise. There are so many traditions, rules. You can’t take your shoes off at Augusta. You can sit on the grass but you cannot lay back on the grass. If you go through the main entrance gate, it’s as intense as going through security at an airport.

Third, the Clubhouse at Augusta, you can see the front is only three windows wide. It is an incredibly small clubhouse but it suits them. I must say there are all kinds of other buildings and I don’t what they are all for.

Fourth, people always ask me, ‘How beautiful is Augusta?’ They have such a large budget to do everything perfectly, it’s almost not real. It’s sort of like Disneyland, half real and half not.Think of the movie, Polar Express, where it was filmed and then they put this sort of artificial film over everything. And that is what Augusta is like to me, it’s almost not real.You can’t believe what pristine shape it is in. I was walking with a guy two years ago and we found a little bit of poa annua. It was like, ‘What is this, how can this be?’ The course is over seeded with Bermuda grass and depending on the weather conditions, I think it was two years ago, they overseeded five times to get to the right density of grass so that the ball would sit up.

The final thing you hear about but can’t see are the elevation changes. I tried to find pictures but two dimensions can’t show it. The 10th hole drops 116 feet from tee to green. That is a whole lot of distance for a hole to drop. Eleven drops 40 feet. Eighteen goes up 40 feet. You don’t get a sense from TV just how hilly it is.”

iG: To finish, any stories from the other Majors you have officiated, The Open Championship or The U.S. Open?

DJ: Two other stories… At all the tournaments, the day before you get your assignments, at Augusta it is which hole you are going to be on; at The U.S. Open and The Open, it’s which group you are assigned to. You follow one group; you walk with them and if they need a rules official, you’re the one.

With the U.S. Open in particular, there are so many rules officials, even more than Augusta, that they assign forward observers for some of the more high profile groups. And on the fourth day at Pinehurst, I was assigned to the 1:45 group. I did not really pay attention to who it was because as a forward observer you don’t really see the players in the group you are assigned to, you are so far ahead you see the players (in the group) in front and you watch them play.

I got there Sunday morning and the USGA’s Jeff Hall, came up to me and said I need you to be the referee for the group not the forward observer and I said, ‘Sure that would be great.’

I kind of made note who it was and then showed up on the first tee for the 1:45 tee time with about ten thousand other people. Mark Rolfing was standing beside me and there were hand held cameras everywhere because I was refereeing Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy and they were the 6th to last group to go off. And that was quite a thrill. It was a thrill in a lot of ways. Here was this guy from Victoria, BC refereeing two of the best players in the world but to watch them up close.

There is something about the quality of the very best players, the top ten in the world… it’s different. The sound the ball makes is different, their swings are just art. I can only say art but even more impressive was the way that both of them handled themselves and they were very complimentary toward one another; they had obviously played a lot of golf together. They acknowledged and were appreciative of the galleries. they both played well and shot under par. It was a great day. I made three relatively straightforward rulings. Stevie Williams who caddies, maybe past tense now, for Scott only got ‘owly’ with me a little bit once and comparatively that’s alright… when that happens only once a round.

The Open… Obviously run by the R&A and the R&A does everything really, really well and in a very understated way. Everybody who is involved is treated like royalty. Great food and beverage, the members are incredibly welcoming. (My wife) Alison went with me this year (2015) and was blown away by the reception given by the wives of the R&A members. This is my Open story. The guy walking toward the camera is Tiger Woods (pointing at a video that is playing) and he is coming on to the first tee at Muirfield a couple of years ago. And there is me and Tiger shakes my hand. That seems sort of unremarkable.

This goes on, Adam Scott shakes my hand but what’s interesting, I don’t know if you can pick it up, but when Tiger walks toward me, just as he was about to tee off in the fourth round of a Major, he looked me right in the eye and said, “Hi I’m Tiger Woods. Thank you for helping out with us today.” And there was a contact that he made that I have never experienced with another player. And he was the last player I would have ever expected that to happen with. And then after the round, on the 18th green, it was the same thing, he walked up to me and said, “Thank you very much for helping us today.”

And it was an insight into Tiger Woods, he had the ability that when he looked at you, you knew you had his attention. It may have been only for a second but for that moment… All of the other players are polite but quite perfunctory. They know the routine but it is pretty straightforward stuff. They are about to tee off in one of the four biggest tournaments of the year and I don’t blame them. They don’t need to think about us, they have to be thinking about golf, but with Tiger it was a little bit different.

The Dale Jackson Bio