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Refereeing on the Lawn
Ian Bond
November 1990 (this revision March 1998) (Updated references to 6th Edition Laws 2002)

As a referee on call, you should first establish the state of the game - but only insofar as it is relevant to the matter in hand (Reg R3). The important principle implicit in this caveat will be discussed as part of the 'Laws' section of the course.

A.  Watching Questionable Strokes

1. Marking the position of the balls

The purpose of marking the position of the balls is to ensure that they may be accurately replaced, should a fault be committed; but this must be done in a way that does not interfere with or assist the striker. The method used is essentially one of taking bearings on fixed points and recording them (by means of markers). There are two guiding principles which should be observed, when precision is important:

  • The position of a ball is best defined by bearings which intersect at right angles;
  • A bearing is better defined by the edges of ball/wire/peg than by their centres, and mixing the two (centre of ball, edge of wire) can lead to mistakes in replacement.

These two guiding principles may conflict, particularly when a ball is close to a hoop (a check measurement of the gap can be useful in such positions). The first should in practice generally take precedence - it is usually better to mark in a way which favours a good intersection of the bearing lines than one which accurately defines lines with a poor intersection.

The standard of accuracy required in marking depends on how critical the position of the ball happens to be: for example, the precise position of a target ball in a hampered shot is rarely vital and can safely be recorded by a single marker to one side of it. It is bad practice to delay the striker by indulging in unnecessarily precise marking.

Small markers are more accurate than large ones: prefer 5p coins or - ideally - golf-ball markers (which do not damage the mower if they are inadvertently left on the court).

2. Assessing the likely outcome of the stroke

It is important to form some view in advance, of the likely outcome of the striker's intended stroke - if it is successful - and the faults most likely to be committed (you may find it useful therefore to ask how the stroke will be played). This helps to prepare mentally for what to expect, in terms of sounds (mallet striking ball or hoop, ball hitting hoop, peg or other balls) and of the path of the striker's ball and others likely to be affected by the stroke. It also helps you decide where best to take up position to watch the stroke.

Differences between expectation and actuality may help in judging whether an irregularity has occurred. But it is important not to pre-judge the outcome of the stroke: the seemingly impossible does happen, and the unexpected is not necessarily the result of a fault.

3. Positioning for best observation

This follows naturally from stage 2 and will rarely give problems. You may find it necessary to position yourself in a way the striker does not like - for example, close to the line of the shot - but do not be deterred: it is your duty 'to take up the most favourable position for adjudicating the fairness and effect of a questionable stroke' (Reg R2). You should however ensure that you do not obstruct the shot, that you will not be hit by the striker's mallet and that you will not interfere with the likely movement of the balls during the stroke. Wherever possible, ensure that your shadow does not fall across the striker's line of play.

In some situations, two referees may be needed to ensure that everything can be properly observed. If you think that that is necessary, do not hesitate to call another referee to assist you.

4. Giving your decision

Three simple points to bear in mind:

  • Be decisive

You will not always give a decision with which the striker agrees. In many situations, the verdict depends to some extent on individual judgment and the standard you set may not accord with the standard expected by the striker (though it should be tolerably close to other referees' standards); and you may simply get it wrong. But you must decide whether or not a fault has been committed - it is not a matter for you to debate with the striker. Hesitation in delivering your verdict may invite dissent and certainly weakens the striker's confidence in your competence.

Remember, though, that the striker may be more aware than you that a particular fault has been committed (perhaps you were unsighted - the fault may not have been the one you expected and so positioned yourself for) and must draw your attention to a fault he believes he has committed, even if you thought the stroke was clean: your presence does not relieve the striker of his obligation, as joint referee of the game, to 'immediately announce any error he believes or suspects he may have committed' (48b). But the decision is still yours.

  • Be clear

Give your decision in terms which cannot create doubt: 'yes' could mean almost anything, 'fair' can all too easily be mis-heard as 'fault'. The use of the terms 'clean/fault' (or 'hit/miss', if appropriate to the situation) helps to minimise the scope for confusion.

  • Be prompt

The least important of the three - it is better to be correct than to be quick - but it is dangerous to consider your decision for too long: your memory of the stroke will fade quickly, the circumstances (a tricky rover hoop which will win the game if it is clean and lose it if it is not) will flash back into your mind. But don't rush unnecessarily: some strokes may have outcomes which thoroughly surprise you and you may need a moment to think through what must have happened. All the same, the quicker you can make up your mind, the easier your decision is likely to be.

Whether or not to volunteer explanations is a moot point. I incline to the view that it is better not to do so (unless asked, of course - Reg R2e), unless it is obvious that the striker simply does not appreciate what might have gone wrong and so should be told, so that he does not through ignorance commit similar faults in future (this is most frequently a problem with high bisquers - particularly with crushes - and with hammer shots, where standards can differ markedly). But it is really a matter for personal taste.

B. Judging the Positions of Balls

One general point - obvious, but worth stating nonetheless - is of overriding importance in judging the position of a ball: it must not be touched or moved unless to confirm a decision you have already made. Similarly, no equipment in a critical position - hoop, peg or boundary cord - should be touched.

1. Ball through a hoop

The best test is by eye, at the level of the centre of the ball (i.e. about two inches above ground level). Hoops are frequently not upright, or are twisted; this makes judging from any other position unreliable.

It should not be necessary to confirm your opinion with a physical test, though the striker will normally expect you to do so if the decision is unfavourable and it is therefore wise to check in such circumstances. Check with a straight edge - held horizontally - from below the ball, working up to it and placing as little pressure as possible on the hoop (both precautions help to reduce the possibility of disturbing the hoop). Ensure that the straight edge really is straight: rulebooks and banknotes often are not. A thread of cotton serves well.

2. Ball off the lawn

An unaided ocular test is often less satisfactory in this case, both because defining the true line is much more easily done with a straight edge of some kind and because it is not easy to judge a vertical - from above the line - simply by eye. A square or rectangular-headed mallet is the most useful tool for the job: again, do not rely on the 'rulebook' method (if its pages have not been cut at right angles to the spine or the ground is not level, it will be thoroughly misleading). In defining a chalk line, you should try to judge the path followed by the wheel which marked it.

3. Ball to be placed on the yard line

You may occasionally be called upon to replace a ball in the yard line area accurately on the yard line, usually when a cannon is a possibility. Near a ball on the corner spot, simple measurement (with a mallet) is often all that is necessary and you are simply acting as independent adjudicator. But it is sometimes necessary to judge replacements well away from corners, where a side cannon may arise and where the problem is one of determining a true right angle rather than of measuring the yard itself.

The relative position of the critical balls - the ball on the yard line and the ball in the yard line area - can only be determined accurately from a distance and, in the absence of a reliable tape measure which enables you notionally to 'translate' the position of the ball in hand well out into the court, the task can often be carried out by measuring from reference points such as corner hoops which can be assumed to be equi-distant from the boundaries. But there are times when you will unavoidably be forced to improvise.

4. Wiring lifts

4.1 Confirming entitlement

If you are called to adjudicate a wiring lift, you must first confirm that the claimant has not yet played the first stroke of his turn and that the adversary is responsible for the position of the ball for which a lift is being claimed.

4.2 Visualisation

The key to successful tests for wiring lifts is first to visualise the stroke by which the claimant's ball will attempt to strike the least accessible part of the target(s) available to it - with (in the case of a potentially hampered shot) the leastadvantageous part of the mallet face. What, precisely, is the obstacle? Which side of the target is hardest to hit? Which is the least accessible part of the mallet face? What path will the mallet take in making the stroke?

4.3 Testing

The method used for testing is to place trial balls at key points along the path the claimant's ball must follow to make the stroke you have just visualised: in contact with any obstacles along that path and (if necessary) against the target itself - taking care, of course, not to move it.

  • Obstructed path to target (13c1)
checking a wired ball - not wired
Diagram 1(a)
In this case, the claimant's ball is not wired from the object ball
checking a wired ball - wired
Diagram 1(b)
In this case, the claimant's ball is wired from the object ball

In principle, this is the most straightforward test. Trial ball(s) must be placed against the obstacle(s) - if necessary, held in place by wedges or coins - and next to the target ball along the line of the shot. Diagram 1 illustrates the most common case: (a) is not wired, (b) is. Diagram 2 illustrates a less common - and very deceptive - case where the target is close to (in this example, in front of) the obstruction and a mallet must be used to identify the common tangent which defines the line of the hypothetical stroke. (This relies on the geometrical fact that the common tangent to two touching circles is perpendicular to the line joining their centres). Remember that 'the benefit of any doubt should be given to the claimant' (Reg R2d).

wiring  lift - not wired
Diagram 2(a)
Wiring Lift: in this case, the claimant's ball is not wired from the object ball
wiring lift - wired
Diagram 2(b)
Wiring Lift: in this case, the claimant's ball is wired from the object ball

As with marking balls (see above), the edges of the balls will be a more accurate measure of their alignments than their centres. A practical point to remember is that a single trial ball can be surprisingly deceptive, an unaided ocular test still more so; and remember that a ball is not an obstacle - even if it is itself wired from the claimant's ball - for wiring purposes.

  • Hampered swing (13c2)

This is the most difficult claim to test. When it is the backswing which is potentially hampered, the striker should be asked to demonstrate his normal swing (with the mallet he will use for the turn) along the line of the most hampered shot, but translated a foot or so parallel to the line; and you should observe both the back of thebackswing (from a point level with the hoop and at right angles to the line, with the eyes at the same height as the crown of the hoop) and the straightnessof the swing in relation to the line of aim. Remember that the striker must be able to 'drive [the ball] freely' towards the target (13d): even if it is only a matter of inches away, he must be able to take a full swing.

If the problem is the last fraction of an inch for the forward swing (the striker's ball is resting against the hoop, for instance), there is no need to check the swing but you will need to assess whether ball or hoop would be hit first for all possible direct roquets. This is - like a normal wired shot - easier to determine if you place a trial ball against the 'worst' side of the object ball. (See diagram 3)

wiring by mallet head - not wired
Diagram 3(a)
In this case, the claimant's ball is not wired from the object ball
wiring by mallet head - wired
Diagram 3(b)
In this case, the claimant's ball is wired from the object ball
  • Technical wiring (13c3)

Do not forget that if any part of the striker's ball is in the jaws of a hoop, the claim is valid (unless it is also in contact with another ball - 13a) even if - in reality - the striker could roquet any part of the object ball with any fair shot. The jaws include the whole area enclosed by the uprights (3b): the ball does not need to show through on the 'other' side.

marking balls
Marking the Position of a Ball - Examples
November 1990 (this revision March 1998)
Author: Ian Bond
All rights reserved © 1990-2008

Updated 28.i.16
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