I am recovering from a very interesting, albeit tiring, four days, golfing-wise. A major part of it was working the Goodwin Tournament at the Stanford Golf Course. Since so many tournament officials signed up for it, the tournament was able to assign an official to each group, with just a few double ups. We would each walk with one group through 18 holes. It turned out to be even more enjoyable than I expected-- much more fun that riding a cart back and forth between two or three groups, and a major bump up from sitting in one spot all day.
Above all, it was a prime educational experience for this second year tournament official. On Friday I had players from TCU, Washington, and UNLV. Since I lived in Seattle for 26 years, it was nice to have the UW player. As soon as I asked him how he liked Aldarra, my old club, where UW has playing privileges, I had his attention. Not two holes went by that we didn't talk about the course, our favorite holes, how great a design it is, how good a winter course it is, and so on.
The round was fairly uneventful--no more than a handful of routine rulings, like relief from cart paths, french drains, and the like. The second day was a whole 'nuther story, starting from the very first green. I was standing just off the putting green when I noticed my three players, from Northwestern, Alabama-Birmingham, and Fresno State, talking about something near the hole and then motioning for me to come over. One of the players had marked his ball and tapped the mark down with his putter, then walked away. When it was his turn, his mark was nowhere to be found, until he returned to where he'd waited. It had apparently stuck to the bottom of his putterhead.
Although I was fairly certain of the rule, I got on the radio to explain the situation. The ruling is that since the mark was moved in an act directly attributable to marking the ball, there is no penalty. The tournament committee quickly affirmed the ruling. The players agreed on where the ball was, easy since it was no more than 18 inches from the hole, and moved on. Decision 20-1/6, Ball Marker Moved Accidentally by Player in Process of Marking Position of Ball applies.
After a handful of more routine relief situations, another popped up on the 12th green. A player had marked his ball, then replaced it when it was his turn. He stepped aside to survey the line again, then went into his pre-stroke routine. The ball moved about a quarter of a turn, which he could tell because the alignment line was now off. He called me over and I informed him that since he had not yet addressed the ball, he was not responsible for the movement of the ball, and he would play it where it came to rest. He then re-marked and re-aligned the ball and played on. The relevant decision is, I believe, 18-2b/8: Player Addresses Ball, Steps Away, Lifts Ball and Replaces It; Ball Then Moves.
The most interesting incident occurred near the end of the round. The 17th hole is a long-ish par three. One of my players shanked the ball over a line of shrubs bordering the right side of the hole. Since the area is not marked as a lateral hazard, he hit a provisional. Before we got there, his coaches and a teammate were there and had found the ball. It rested on what looked like an old utility road leading to some sort of pump house or the like. The road was covered with small rocks, one to two inches wide. I got on the horn. Nobody had any idea of the area I was talking about, since I'm sure not too many players, particularly college golfers, hit the ball there. We finally decided that it was indeed a road and the player was entitled to relief.
Here's where it really got interesting. We determined that the nearest full relief would be on a slope above the road. The ball would be at least 3-4 inches above the player's feet, and it was muddy. His coach asked him if he would rather hit there, or remove the rocks behind the ball and play from a level lie. The clincher: "We'll get you a new wedge." The player hit a beautiful 65 yard blind lob to about 15 feet. I told the coach "Now that's good coaching!" Unfortunately, the he missed the slippery downhill sidehill putt, but as his teammate said, "I'll bet you'd have been happy with four after that tee shot!"
After that, the 18th was anti-climatic. Two players went very wide left with their tee shots, and hit provisional balls, but both balls were found and played, and both players made good pars. All in all, a great learning experience. There's a saying: You're as smart as the smartest rules official present, so when in doubt, get on the horn. I couldn't agree more.