Burrowing animals, pin placements: PGA Tour rules officials quietly influential at Phoenix Open

As a PGA Tour rules official, Pete Dachisen and his colleagues ensure everything on the course is ready to go for a long day of play. (Photo by Harrison Campbell/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE – As the sun slowly rises above the mountains overlooking TPC Scottsdale, the fans eagerly wait in line to rush through the gates, the players begin to hit the range and the volunteers spread out to their assigned holes. But before that, as darkness still masks the course, Pete Dachisen and his colleagues are ensuring everything on the course is ready to go for a long day of play. Dachisen is a PGA Tour rules official, a role that is quietly one of the most influential in golf.

The amount of work to prepare for a tournament like the WM Phoenix Open is significant. Weeks of preparation precede fans stepping foot on the course. Once the tournament begins, different responsibilities emerge.

“We get some interesting rulings in the desert, some of the burrowing animals and whatnot,” Dachisen said. “But it’s usually pretty cut and dry.”

A PGA Tour rules official is responsible for upholding the rules for all golfers each day of competition. If a question arises about a ruling or potential violation, a rules official is sent in to dictate the situation. At times they must come in after the fact and enforce a penalty. For the Waste Management Phoenix Open, 10 rules officials are spread throughout the course, waiting on standby for potential rulings.

With over 130 golfers playing the course on the first two days, the officials are responsible for ensuring the tournament is moving along at the proper pace. The officials time groups as they move through the course to help ensure the golfers can all finish on time. The first time a golfer or a group is taking too long, a warning is issued. That warning carries over throughout the tournament and if a second warning is given then the golfer will receive a penalty.

The pace of play differs at each course, but due to golf’s generally slower nature, this becomes a difficult ruling to make at times.

Beyond enforcing the rules of the game, PGA Tour rules officials are also responsible for setting up the course. Dachisen arrives at 6 a.m. before competition every day and goes around the course, making decisions that could make or break a golfer’s weekend.

“We’re responsible for setting tees, picking the hole locations for the duration of the golf tournament,” Dachisen said. “Then we have other guys, other officials that are out just checking the setup, and then they kind of peel back and try to get in position to enforce rules and pace of play and whatnot.”

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Dachisen said the 10 officials are each responsible for two to three holes and are positioned so that they can see more than one hole at once. At this tournament, Dachisen is stationed around hole 10, enforcing any rulings that arise near him.

For all PGA golf tournaments, to keep things fresh each day, the pin location on each hole is changed. That is part of the officials’ responsibility, too.

“We like to try and change them,” he said. “But when you come to a facility like this, we’ve played here for … a number of years, we’ve kind of found the four best locations.”

Because Saturday is expected to be windy, “we’ll kind of set up with the wind direction, you know,” Dachisen said.

The location of the pin is vitally important to the competition, as often one area of the green is far easier, or harder, to hit and putt on. At most PGA Tour events the pin placements on Sunday, the championship day, are the hardest. After playing the same tournament multiple times, however, golfers begin to grow more comfortable with the pins and the relatively familiar locations.

“Good set of pins again,” said Adam Hadwin, who shot 3-under par on Friday. “I thought there were a couple yesterday that were really good. But, yeah, nothing too crazy today, nothing we haven’t seen in the past. Again, spots you can be aggressive in and spots where you just kind of have to take your 15, 25 feet and try and make a putt.”

In addition to the pins, Dachisen also sets up the tee boxes on each hole, ensuring they’re properly angled, and confirms the grass is in good condition. Using spray paint cans, he lines up the two garbage truck tee markers on either end of the tee box, analyzing to the inch which spot is best.

Once he and his colleagues have ensured the course is set up to specifications, double-checking each other, then they head out to their assigned area to help with any questions relating to the rules. Each rules official has spent countless hours looking over the USGA rule book.

The large number of grandstands at the Waste Management Phoenix Open often create interesting rulings for the officials.

“Most of the stuff that we’re dealing with here at Waste Management, as you can tell, the build-out is very big, so a lot of rulings are dealing with all these structures,” Dachisen said.

Most fans don’t even notice the PGA Tour rules officials, and most players hope they don’t have to see one.

“If the player’s asking for a ruling, he’s generally not in a good spot,” Dachisen said. Yet the officials don’t look at it as penalizing golfers, they look at it as helping them.

“The first question you’re going to ask every time you roll into a ruling is, how can I help you?” Dachisen said. “It’s not us giving a player a penalty if we have to, we’re just enforcing the rules. So, at times it’s regrettable, but it’s not the official coming down and saying this is that, we’re just interpreting the rules.”

Dachisen said that 99% of golfers understand the officials are just enforcers of the rules but some judgment calls are required, and on occasion a golfer will be less than pleased with an official’s ruling. However, the consensus among PGA members is that the rules officials are there to save them from a penalty, not give them one.

Most will never notice, but the most thrilling holes and tournaments in golf start with the decisions made by officials such as Dachisen and his colleagues. So, whether it’s setting up the course early each day or making a potentially weekend-defining ruling, the job of a PGA Tour Rules Official is perhaps more influential than any other on the course.

Harrison Campbell HAIR-i-son CAM-bull
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Harrison Campbell expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in film and media studies. Campbell has interned as a reporter at O’Rourke Media Group and worked as the lead boxing reporter at Fight Club.