MSGA's Randy Hodsdon hooked on the rules of golf

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Randy Hodsdon, left, talks to Peter French on the 18th green while working as a roving rules official on the back nine during final round of Charlie’s Maine Open earlier this month at the Augusta Country Club in Manchester. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

AUBURN — So you want to become an rules official for golf? Like most sports, there’s a class for that. It’s called rules school.

To go to rules school, it doesn’t take much time, four days total — three days of classes, and the fourth day a three-hour test with 100 multiple choice and true-or-false questions.

Simple enough, right?

Not so fast, says Randy Hodsdon, the Maine State Golf Association tournament director and director of rules and competition. You may have an easier time getting through medical or law school than officiating at the highest level.

“The test has been called by doctors who have gone through the medical association test, and lawyers — there are many lawyers — almost every lawyer will tell you, this test is harder than the bar (exam),” Hodsdon said.

To officiate the United States Golf Association’s Big Five — the U.S. Open, the U.S. Amateur, the Women’s U.S. Open, the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Senior Open — you have to score an 92 or above. To be an official scorer at any other level, you have to score an 75, which Hodsdon said is an accomplishment in itself.

Hodsdon has taken the test about 15 times. The first time he took the test he scored an 87. Since then he has scored above an 92, and has scored as high as an 98.

He and the rest of his staff at the MSGA will have to retake the test this fall and winter because the rules of golf are changing Jan. 1, 2019, from the current 34 rules down to 24. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the USGA hope less rules and simpler rules will be easier for players to understand.

Hodsdon will soon be taking a crash course on the new rules because he really hasn’t read up on what they entail since they haven’t officially been implemented yet.

“With these new rules coming out, I have looked at them a little bit,” Hodsdon said. “The rules are going from 34 down to 24. … I don’t want to get confused with what’s coming up and what’s still in place. … They are all being restructured and unlike the restructuring of 1984 — where they were condensed from 41 to 34, but the rules were basically the same — the rules are going down and there’s a lot of changes.”

The USGA and the R&A are making major changes in an effort to try to speed up play, such as cutting down the time a player is allowed to look for a lost ball from five to three minutes, and giving players only 40 seconds to play a stroke upon address. A maximum score will be implemented in stroke play to two times par. For example a par-3, a six will be the maximum score, par-4 an eight and a 10 on a par-5. Other new rules being put in place deal with where to drop a ball for relief and accidentally touching a ball when it’s in play.

For the love of rules

Hodsdon, who will be inducted into the Maine Golf Hall of Fame on Sept. 6, found his calling as an official around the time he went to his first rules school and while playing an event at Sugarloaf in the early 1990s.

“When I went to my first rules school, I really got hooked,” Hodsdon said. “Two years later, when I went to my first tournament administration seminar at (TPC) Sawgrass, that was hook, line and sinker. I said, ‘I got to do this.'”

Hodsdon, who was a pro at Falmouth Country Club prior to moving to work at the MSGA on the administrative side in 2005, started going down to TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where the PGA Tour is headquartered and where the Players Championship is played, in the early 2000s. There, he was able to work alongside Tom Meeks, the former USGA senior director of rules and competition, and Frank Cavanaugh, who has worked with the PGA Tour for 40 years as an rules official and as a tournament director.

Hodsdon was able to follow Cavanaugh around a few times at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida, to see how the PGA Tour sets up an event a week before the actual tournament begins.

Tournament setup is something Hodsdon does with the MSGA, especially when it comes to its many championships during the summer months.

“I am responsible for making sure all the tee times are all correct, and the running of the weekend (tournaments),” Hodsdon said. “The responsibility … of getting here a few days before and making sure the golf course is set up properly. Making sure we have all the paperwork, making sure we have all the local rules sheets, making sure the hole locations are right and making sure the tees are right.”

A helpful hand

When Hodsdon is out on the golf course observing play, his job is to assist with any questions players may have about the rules or how to make a proper drop.

He feels the players know that he’s there to help them and not being a disciplinarian.

“Over the course of the years, the guys get used to you out here and they know you are here to help,” Hodsdon said. “Basically, what we do most of the time is just really observe play.”

When he’s not at a tournament, other rules officials around the state will text him questions about rulings they dealt with or what they could do better the next time. He said he gets 10 or so texts a week from other rules officials.

What’s the ruling he gets asked about most when officiating a tournament?

“Probably the most common ruling people will call me over for is getting a ball away from a structure,” Hodsdon said. “For instance, a ball on a cart path, most people know how to do that. I was observing a couple people (Wednesday) morning (at the B and C Championship at Martindale Country Club) who knew how to do it, but when people aren’t real familiar, they might not know which side of the cart path is the nearest point of relief.”

Hodsdon said that some people forget it’s the nearest point of relief, not the nicest point of relief.

It’s been a few years since he has dealt an obscure ruling, but one day at the Maine Amateur this year, he dealt with two odd situations.

One involved a player whose shot went into the wood on No. 15 at Belgrade Lakes. The ball was found in an unplayable lie besides a flat rock about the size of two small table tops. He stood on the rock and dropped it on the rock and it stayed on the rock. He played his third shot off the rock, but didn’t clear the wood back into the fairway. He couldn’t find his ball and had drop another ball on the rock to play his fifth shot.

The other odd situation involved a player who hit his ball in the woods on No. 11, and then hit a provisional but couldn’t find his first ball or the provisional. He hit a second provisional for his fifth shot and on his way to the second provisional he found his original ball. He played his original ball and picked up his second provisional. When he did that, he played a wrong ball since the original was considered lost at that point.

After completing the 11th hole, the player explained to Hodsdon what happened, and Hodsdon asked if he hit his tee shot on No. 12 yet. The player said said he hadn’t, which kept him eligible for the remainder of the tournament because if he teed off he would have been disqualified. Hodsdon told him he had to go back, drop a ball where his second provisional landed and that he had to take a two-shot penalty for playing a wrong ball and two more for picking up a ball and not replacing it. With the four penalty strokes, the player made a 12.

He said some of the biggest rules infractions come from junior golfers, not because they are deliberately trying to break the rules, but because they might know them as well or aren’t comfortable finding a rules official for help.

He believes the new rules will help junior golfers, especially when comes to drops.

What about Hodsdon, what odd or rare ruling has he had to use on himself?

“One hole I had to hit three provisional balls, and I found my original,” Hodsdon said. “That doesn’t happen every day. We were playing down in Massachusetts and we had a strong left-to-right wind. Normally, I used to drive the ball straight, but I hit one, two, three (into the woods). I going: ‘I still have to hit another provisional.’ Well I found my original and that doesn’t happen every day. That’s the only time I’ve done that in 50 years.”

Randy Hodsdon talks on a two-way radio while working as a roving rules official on the back nine during final round of Charlie’s Maine Open earlier this month at the Augusta Country Club in Manchester. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Randy Hodsdon works as a roving rules official on the back nine during final round of the Charlie’s Maine Open earlier this month at the Augusta Country Club in Manchester. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

Randy Hodsdon works as a roving rules official on the back nine during final round of the Charlie’s Maine Open earlier this month at the Augusta Country Club in Manchester. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)

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