62-year-old Sampath Chari has been in on the Indian golf scene for more than 21 years. As the tournament director with Professional Golf Tour Of India (PGTI) since 1998, Chari is a R&A, Scotland certified International referee and has officiated in tournaments on PGTI calendar, Asian Tour and European Tour. The Pune resident was in Chandigarh during PGTI Players Championship last week and in a chat with NITIN SHARMA, Chari spoke about challenges, changes in golf rules and views on the golf scene in Chandigarh.
As the tournament director for PGTI since last 21 years, what changes have you seen in Indian golf scene, especially in terms of officiating in tournaments?
A lot of changes have happened in the last two decades. Earlier, there used to be events with prize money of Rs 3 to 6 lakh. Nowadays, we have tournaments with prize money ranging from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore. It means that more and more golfers are emerging at national and international level. Golfers like Shubhankar Sharma, Anirban Lahiri, Shiv Kapur and Chikkarangappa, have come through the PGTI circuit and have been doing well at the international front. PGTI has been the stepping stone for golfers. With PGTI tournaments now offering world ranking points, the domestic circuit has now become more valuable to the Indian golfers. It also means that the task of referees and tournament director requires more responsibility.
Talking about the awareness of rules, there has been a change in approach of players. Earlier, the golfers would not not have much clarity on the rules but now they keep track of all the rules and sub-rules. We, as officials, have to be updated about these rules as well and have to be 100 per cent sure about a rule or violation. Golfers of today are increasingly aware of using the rules to their advantage.
Talking about challenges on the golf courses, earlier the golf courses did not have golf carts and we had to walk with the golfers or to walk fast to the green, where there was an issue with the rules. The recent years have seen more and more golf courses having golf carts and other facilities.
How do you rate the course at Chandigarh Golf Club? What are your views on emergence of top ranked Indian golfers from this region?
Well, Chandigarh Golf Course is one of the toughest to manage in India. With members here needing the course almost through out the year, it becomes difficult for officials before any national tournament. The CGA Range is also almost packed all the time. The government should focus on opening more public golf courses and driving ranges. In countries like USA, Korea and Japan, there are plenty of public driving ranges and golf courses. If the game has to grow bigger, then there should be an opportunity for a common citizen to play the sport.
We have talent in the country but such initiatives will encourage more people to join the sport. Regarding the conditions at the Chandigarh Golf Course, I guess they were close to the best this week. The depth of greens were almost perfect. I hope when we return here for Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational in October, the greens would be faster. Chandigarh acknowledges presence of group of top-ranked Indian golfers and that is a
New rules of golf came into play in January this year. What do you make of this development?
The changes in rules were made to make the pace of the play better. The pace of play became a big issue all over the world in recent years and such changes were required. The R&A had to make sure that more and more people are interested in the sport and these rules are an effort to achieve that. Rules like drop from knee height, reducing the time for search to three minutes from five minutes, no penalty for double hit, pace of play and other changes, have been adopted well by the golfers and it is good for the sport. As referees and officials, we, too, have spent a lot of time understanding the new changes in rules and that’s the way it has been for all these years.
With golf having an extensive list of rules with many sub-clauses and sub-rules, how tough it is for a official and what has been the main challenge?
Currently, we have approximately 30-40 officials and referees in India. The number is very less as compared to countries like USA, where there are more than 1,000 qualified referees. The Indian Golf Union, in association with R&A, keeps conducting regular seminars and classes for golf officials and technical officials. There are level 1 and 2 exams and two best officials are selected to attend R&A Tournament Administrators & Referees School (TARS), held annually at St Andrews, Scotland. The success of the programme makes one certified as International Qualified Rules Officials.
Apart from that, IGU also conducts seminars and programmer for golfers to understand the rules of golf better. With the recent rules changes, though the number of rules have come won to 34 to 24, there are various sub-rules which makes more than 5,000 different scenarios. As a official, we have to be aware of all such changes and rules and understand them. Since most of the rules are practice ones, applying them and understanding them in context of different conditions and golf courses, is the main challenge.
Even a player like 14 -time international winner, Jeev Milkha Singh, or other top golfers can be in doubt about a rule and can ask us for more clarity. We carry the rule book with us and refer to it in case of any doubts but beyond that, it is based on each individual’s judgment. And sometimes, there are arguments. We have to understand that unlike cricket, hockey or other sports, which have a set field of play and in limited space, golf is played on a course ranging from 110 acre to 150 acres of land. The officials have to mark the areas well and there are different pin positions each day. As a official, we understand our role in a sport like golf, which is a heavily self-regulated sport and relies on the golfers too. But then, the players also understand that the judgment of the officials is final.
With more than 21 years of experience as a referee and official, you must have encountered many challenging and interesting incidents. Can you share a few?
As the tournament director of PGTI and Asian Tour and European Tour co-sanctioned events in India, I have interacted with the likes of John Paramor, chief referee, European Tour and Jitisac Tamprasert, incharge of Tour and Operations Director of Asian Tour, and have learnt a lot from them.
Regarding the interesting incident, during Johnie Walker classic tournament in Gurgaon, there was an incident with Gaurav Ghei. The ball had moved by a paper-thin margin and nobody could see it with naked eye. He did not report it in his scoring card and later, when the officials saw it on television frame by frame, they noticed that the ball moved. Under the old rules, he was disqualified, while I thought it was neither the players, or the officials fault. Under the new rules, the ball movement should be noticeable by naked eye. Another incident which happened was in a international tournament, where an Argentina golfer had his ball near the sprinkler head. I told him he cannot attempt a shot but he still hit the shot and rescued a tough situation. Later Paramor told me that the players play the shots in their heads and they are better judges of the situations.