Porter Cup 2019: The Rules Official

Porter Cup 2019: The Rules Official

Porter Cup 2019: The Rules Official

They appear, usually on a cart for ease and pace of movement. Inevitably, they save the day.

John Burns is his real name. He is a member at the Niagara Falls Country Club, a high school teacher and coach (golf and hockey) and a member of the Buffalo District Golf Association board of directors. As if that weren’t a healthy serving on the plate of life, on a side dish, he is a USGA rules official. He serves to assist each competitor’s journey ’round the tournament course, ensuring that proper procedure and etiquette are followed. Most decisions are rendered in relative anonymity, although the occasional, high-profile moment does surface. Chances are, you will mistake him for a marshal, groundskeeper, or a fellow fan. That is well and good. His job requires tunnel vision. He will wave and smile, but the gallery gets little of his attention. The players, however, will be grateful for his expertise, and the clarity of his decisions. We had a chance to sit down with John and ask a few questions on the start2finish of becoming a rules official. Have a read, and be sure to thank him and his fellow officials when you see them at Porter Cup.


1-What or who inspired you to become a golf rules official?
#1 – I became a golf rules official accidentally!!! I have played golf tournaments since I was 12 (45 Years) and have been the golf coach at Williamsville North since 2004. So over time you gain an understanding of the rules and how to apply them as you become involved in different situations. So three Porter Cups ago, we were short a rules official and our head pro John Boss asked me if I could help out because he knew I had worked at various junior and high school tournaments as well as some men’s qualifiers for the NYSGA and USGA.

2-What sort of training and study is required to become a golf rules official?
#2 – Very simply, you try and know the rules and how they are applied. So you’re always studying the book! Its like watching a movie. The first time you see it you get the gist of it. But if watch it over and over again you catch new things and even start repeating the lines from the movie. The same with the USGA rule book – the more you study it the more you understand it. Also, I have attended a number of rules clinics/seminars put on by the NYSGA and USGA.

3-Tell us about the first event you ever worked.
#3 – Not sure actually, but it might have been the USGA Junior Amateur qualifier at Sheridan a few years back. If not, then definitely a BDGA junior qualifier.

4-You were the official on hand at Porter Cup 2018 for the Thomas Walsh rulings, on the 72nd hole, as he tried to protect a 3-shot lead. Walk us through what transpired.
#4 – Just when you think nothing can happen… it did. Tom hits his tee shot thin on the par 3, 18th and it is going over the green and out of bounds, but somehow hits the bank behind the green, pops into the air and lands in between a woman’s two blankets. First, we had to free the ball from the blankets because they were movable obstructions. Since the ball was on the obstruction, it had to be dropped. Of course both drops went out of bounds because of the slope of the bank. So the ball had to be placed. But he had a second problem because now the temporary scoreboard was in Tom’s way. Because the scoreboard was a temporary immovable obstruction (TIO) he received relief again. So we repeated the drops going out of bounds again and then the placement of the ball so he could finally play his second shot.

5-Continuing with Porter Cup, what areas of the Niagara Falls country club course are most likely to generate rulings?
#5 – If past history is an indication, the #3 green, #4 tee, and 6th green area seems to attract some action. Then the tee shot on the par three 12th and the drive of the par 5,13th. Lastly, up on the hill between #15 green, #16 tee and #17 is the other hot spot.

6-The USGA implemented a spate of new rules for 2019. Will any of those be front and center at Porter Cup 2019?
#6 – All of the new rules will be in play. Leaving the flag stick in while putting stands out the most. But being able to tap down and repair any marks on the green, only 3 minutes to search for a ball, the new penalty areas where players can move loose impediments and ground their club, and dropping from the knee are all new.

7-Give us one or two rules that will help every club golfer right now-rules that they ignore, or simply don’t know exist.
#7 – I think the most abused rule will be only three minutes to search for a lost ball – that 180 seconds goes fast, The local rule most golfers are not aware of to speed up everyday play is the new out of bounds/lost ball rule. If the club adopts the local rule, a player can go to the point where their ball went out of bonds or was lost and drop a new ball two club lengths onto the fairway for two penalty stokes instead of the stroke and distance penalty. This local rule is usually not used for tournament play and will not be in effect at the Porter Cup.

8-What other events will you work in 2019, or does your season end with Porter Cup?
#8 – After the Porter Cup, my plan is to work some of the BDGA men’s championship at Brierwood and some of the NYSGA Men’s Am at Crag Burn. Then it will be back to coaching HS golf.

9-What question didn’t we ask about officiating, that golfers should know? Ask it and answer it, please.
#9 – How much do you make as a rules official? I think one thing players don’t realize is that rules officials are not paid. We are all volunteers who love the game of golf.

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