For four days, Robinson Owiti toiled in the hot sun at Limuru Country Club chasing the Kshs 105,000 prize packet. And for all his troubles, he managed to return a score of +3 placing him in fourth position, a feat that earned him Kshs 52,000. But his joy of achieving a maiden podium finish was short-lived as he was hurriedly disqualified. Reason? Using non-conforming clubs!
It all began at the end of the closing round when his fellow players complained about eligibility of Owiti’s clubs. “We received a formal complaint at the end of the round so we decided to scrutinize the equipment. And on checking, we actually found that two clubs- Pitching Wedge and Rescue- were not compliant,” Vincent Wang’ombe, General Manager Kenya Open Golf Limited explains.
To determine compliance of the said clubs, Safari Tour officials consulted The R&A list of conforming clubs that is published online. The list spells out conforming clubs based on tests conducted by The R&A in conjunction with equipment manufacturers. This ugly incident raises the fundamental question; granted that there’s no established equipment testing procedure, how many players could be using non-conforming equipment on the Safari Tour?
“We do not have the capacity to check the playing equipment of all the players on Safari Tour. Can you imagine inspecting 14 clubs for each of the 60 players per event? Golf is a gentleman’s sport and players must self-police. The onus is on individual players to ensure they are playing within rules,” said Wang’ombe.
But the decision has not gone down well with Owiti. According to the Vetlab-based pro, the eligibility of only one club -Rescue- is in contention. After receiving the news of his disqualification, Owiti went ahead to cross check the information. “I consulted a United States Golf Teachers Federation certified professional and we confirmed that the Pitching Wedge is not listed on the non-conforming list. As for the Rescue, we have written to the manufacturer and The R&A to confirm the status after we could not find it on the list of both the conforming and non-conforming equipment. I feel like the decision to disqualify me was taken in haste but I shall pronounce myself on the matter only after hearing from The R&A,” said an aggrieved Owiti.
For the Safari Tour organizers, the matter is done and dusted as evidenced by the release of an amended money list which has excluded Owiti. Citing local rule G1 and G2, Wang’ombe termed the case “straight” forward and asked the Tour members to be cautious to avoid such costly mistakes.
Under golf regulations, manufacturers of golf balls and clubs must submit their products for conformance tests to the Rules of Golf as established by the USGA and The R&A. According to The R&A, Committees in charge of competitions restricted to elite level golfers can require, as a Condition of Competition, that a player’s driver or ball is included on the appropriate Conforming List. “The main objective … is to protect golf’s traditions, to prevent an over-reliance on technological advances rather than skill, and to ensure that skill is the dominant element golfing of success,” notes the R&A on its website.