Meet Women & Golf's new rules expert Sheila Waltham. We'll be launching our 'Ask the Ref' weekly feature soon but in the meantime get to know the England Golf Rules Referee

Women & Golf are delighted to introduce Sheila Waltham, an England Golf Rules Referee, who will be providing her expert rules knowledge over the coming golf season. Each week, Sheila will be tasked with a rules scenario that needs a solution and will provide the answer according to The Rules of Golf.

Before we get stuck into understanding The Rules of Golf better, we thought it would a great opportunity to find out more from Sheila about her road to becoming a Golf Rules Referee and the experiences she has had along the way.

How long have you played golf?

I had a few lessons in Sheffield in 1985 but then moved to Hertfordshire where my husband and I found it difficult to join a local club where there was weekend playing availability. This was a sport we wanted to do together. In 1995 we joined, along with both our sons, a newly opened club close to our home, with no handicap requirement. So, the short answer is I have been playing regularly since 1995.

How long have you been a qualified rules official/referee?

Approximately 15 years.

When did you become interested in becoming a referee?

I joined a new proprietary golf club in Hertfordshire in the mid-90s as a complete beginner. Like most novice golfers, I didn’t use the Rule book, I looked to more experienced golfers to guide me on the Rules during play. I quickly realised that not all Rules information received was accurate, despite assurances to the contrary. I found it exceedingly embarrassing to be told that I had breached a Rule, so I started to look up the answers in the R&A Rule book. It never crossed my mind to intentionally become a referee.

I passed a Hertfordshire qualification as a “Rules Observer” and was then deemed by my home club to be knowledgeable in the Rules, or at least more knowledgeable than most others! In approximately 2009, the EGU planned to have someone qualified in the Rules in every club in England. As part of this strategy, my home club asked if I would like to take a rules exam offered by county and qualify as a Rules Official at “club level”. I was not aware that by scoring well I would qualify as a “county level” Rules Official. I was asked to join the HGU Championship Committee, which refereed all the men’s and junior boy’s championships in the county. In 2019, England Golf asked me to qualify at national level and attend the TARS (Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar). I was subsequently invited to join the EG Tournament Panel of Referees.

Do you need to have got to a particular handicap or been playing for a certain length of time to become a referee?

There is no specific handicap or length of experience required to become a referee, but one does need to be an experienced golfer.

What is the process to become an England Golf rules referee?

The route to qualification has changed over the years. EG use R&A qualifications:

  • Level 1 can be taken by anyone online.
  • Level 2 is a 2-day seminar and exam held at venues around England and is supervised by England Golf.
  • Level 3 (TARS – Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar) is a 3-day seminar held annually at St Andrews. Entry to this is open to affiliates around the world. Therefore, places are very limited.

Joining the England Golf Tournament Panel of Referees is by invitation.

Do you now know the majority of the Rules of Golf without consulting your Rule book?!

Yes, but any slight deviation from a basic Rule and I would always check to ensure that I am right, because it’s a very big book! Most refereeing involves the basic Rules of Golf and these are regularly used and therefore memorable. The less frequently used aspects I like to check. Referees are not infallible and no referee likes to give an incorrect ruling.

Do the referees get together for Rules workshops/ to share knowledge & experiences?

England Golf holds an annual seminar for Tournament Panel referees at Woodhall Spa. Locally, it is down each county to organise meetings or workshops.

Does officiating differ between amateur and professional tournaments?

England Golf, county unions and associations look after the amateur game, therefore my experience of refereeing professional tournaments is very limited. Professional tours tend to use their own referees and we are only asked to help occasionally!

Alice Hewson and Sheila Waltham
Alice Hewson and Sheila Waltham

What rule do most golfers you know want to change?

Two come to mind:

  • the ball sitting in a divot hole on the fairway and
  • a ball sitting in a manmade footprint in an unraked bunker. In the amateur game, we don’t have bunker rakers ensuring the sand is pristine (as seen in TV coverage) and a lot of golfers “forget” to rake after tramping around in the sand. We try to train golfers in good etiquette, but there are always the rogue few that spoil the experience for others.

What advice would you give to a new player about the rules of golf?

  • Read and understand the Definitions. They will give you a good grounding as you progress through the Rules.
  • If during social golf, you find yourself unsure how to proceed, sit down with your friends afterwards and look up the ruling over golf. That way you all learn.

What's the most memorable incident you have been involved in?

In 2023, I was refereeing a foursomes match between England and Spain at Worplesdon GC. On the signature 10th hole (par 3), the Spanish player played first and made a hole in one. The English player came really close to halving the hole and put his ball 6 inches from the hole.

What's the funniest ruling you have had?

A tee shot came in my direction where I was standing in the rough. I heard it land, but it was still some distance away, so couldn’t see it. A greenkeeper arrived mowing the rough. When the player arrived he told me the ball was definitely in the rough edging the fairway and not further away in the trees. The player provided ball identification information, which included his home club logo. After a lengthy search, I found half a ball bearing the club logo. The mower had chewed it up!

What is the most famous tournament you’ve officiated at?

In 2019 England Golf hosted the European Ladies Amateur Championship at Parkstone GC (my home club).

What don’t you like about refereeing?

  • Cold, wet weather
  • Golfers and/or organisers who forget to thank the referees.
  • Referees spend many hours on course, often in bad weather doing their best to ensure elite golfers can enjoy their golf in a professional manner. Unfortunately, some golfers can be rude to referees who are trying to help them. However, it is a delight when golfers take the trouble to say “Thank you”.

What has been your most favourite golf course you’ve played and/or refereed?

I enjoy any course with great views. Beautiful views mean that I will enjoy my game whether or not I am playing well. When refereeing there is a lot of time spent with little action, so again having great views is always a bonus.

Do you have a rules question you would like answered? Please drop us an email here and we'll get Sheila to answer it for you.