New rule surprises Safeway field
NORTH PLAINS, Ore. – Controversy and the LPGA have been paired together all year, so nobody seemed surprised when another LPGA brush fire broke out Friday during the opening round of the Safeway Classic at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.
Starters on the 1st and 10th tees of the Ghost Creek course greeted contestants with an addendum to the rules, something none of the players had known about or anticipated.
The addendum, outlined on a separate sheet of paper, announced “Preferred lies, step-cut only.” It went on to explain that a player could lift, clean and place her golf ball if it “lies on or touches” the step-cut, which is another name for the first cut of rough.
Once the ball was in hand, it had to be replaced in the step-cut and not the fairway.
As a result, players were highly visible to spectators and television viewers as they marked and lifted their golf balls from the sticky rough that surrounded the Ghost Creek greens.
Lift, clean and place in the rough? Normally this provision applies only to fairway lies and is used in wet conditions with an excess of casual water.
Pumpkin Ridge is dry as a bone, groomed by superintendent Bill Webster to be firm and fast, similar to U.S. Open conditions.
Sue Witters, manager of tournament competitions, clarified the reasons for the step-cut addendum, which had never before been used in any LPGA tournament: “Several weeks ago, we asked Pumpkin to put in the step-cut. It’s about six feet wide, or two paces. Normally they don’t have one. Unfortunately, there was a record heat wave, and the step-cut took the brunt of it. It’s spotty, the ground is cracked, it’s a lot more extensive that we originally thought it was.”
Marking the affected areas, according to Witters, was out of the question because a player might be able (remaining within one club length, no closer to the ball) to place her ball in the fairway. This would not be fair, Witters indicated.
On the other hand, veteran Heather Young was more philosophical. “In golf, if you miss the fairway, you’re in the rough,” Young said. “That heavy grass is rough. It isn’t that bad. I figure if I hit it in there, I should have to play it as it lies. I was very surprised by what they did. I’ve never seen a rule like that before.”
Pumpkin Ridge officials were furious.
“We weren’t told until this morning,” Webster said. “I was shocked. Sure, it was tough on the edges, but it’s always been that way. You get that around here with seasonal grasses.”
Director of golf Dominic Marconi tried to remain cool. “We play it every day,” he said with conviction. “Nobody complains. Golf isn’t always meant to be played in perfect conditions.”
Marvin French, one of the co-founders of Pumpkin Ridge, talked about the integrity of the competition. “I think it’s golf,” he said. “It’s crazy to take out the intermediate rough. If you ask me, it’s not a fair indication of who the best players are.”
The step-cut addendum will remain in effect for the final two rounds of the tournament, Witters said.