‘Up and Down’ the Iowa Golf Scene – IGA Rules Official Sean Flanders

Rules official Sean Flanders (right) confers with IGA staff member Katelynn Hogenson prior to the start of a recent tournament.

The Visible, Invisible Man – IGA Rules Official Sean Flanders

Being available to help the player and getting it right are among the primary objectives for Sean Flanders and the Iowa Golf Association rules officials’ team.

Flanders is a veteran member of a behind the scenes IGA volunteer staff that ensures tournaments are run smoothly, efficiently and without incident. And that the integrity of the game is upheld. 

He’s been a busy volunteer for the IGA tournament team for the past eight years, working nearly 125 tournaments during that span, including a busy schedule of more than 20 events annually for the past few years. The IGA recognized Flanders’ exceptional service by renaming its annual Volunteer of the Year Award after him in 2018.

Flanders and his fellow rules officials want to be available to players as needed – but to be inconspicuous and behind the scenes. “Rules officials are there to help the players, we are not looking for ways to penalize them,” he said. “Golf can present the player with some unusual circumstances, and we want to make sure the various options are known and to ensure the rules are understood and abided by.”

Flanders has been playing golf for more than 50 years. But it was during a trip to the former PGA Tour Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic in Williamsburg, VA that sparked his interest in becoming a rules official. Flanders is retired following a career that began by serving his country through a tour in Vietnam as a radio corpsman with the Marine Corps, bartending, and on to various roles in manufacturing and service industries as well as 20-plus year stint with the local Anheuser-Busch distributor. One of the perks of the latter position was participating in the Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic Pro-Am during the early 90’s, teeing it up with the likes of past Tour winners Bob Eastwood, Joey Sindelar, David Peoples and Jay Don Blake. 

During one of those events he crossed paths with Mark Russell, the iconic PGA Tour rules official and tournament director who retired this year after a 40-year run, the longest tenured employee in the history of the PGA Tour. Russell told Flanders that if you can’t play golf at a highly competitive level, the next best way to give back to the game is by being involved as a rules and tournament official. 

Flanders took that counsel to heart. It was off to Phoenix for a three-day rules workshop sponsored by the USGA, followed by a 100-question USGA Rules of Golf Exam, the national standard to test the depth and breadth of participants’ knowledge of the Rules of Golf, including definitions and interpretations. Participants may achieve Expert or Advanced rules certification from the USGA. 

That experience helped set the stage for a highly-successful relationship with the IGA. He’s worked a wide variety of events and championships – the Iowa Amateur, Senior Amateur, Mid-Amateur, Herman Sani, USGA qualifiers and even high school state championships. Being a rules official for so many tournaments has exposed Flanders to unusual rules circumstances – but it’s the basics that come to mind first. “You’d be surprised at how many experienced tournament players don’t really know the difference between red and yellow penalty areas, the options with an unplayable lie or how to properly put a ball in play.”

Flanders also volunteers to work the Iowa Masters. He’s stationed at the notorious 16th hole, a risk-reward par-5 with a narrow fairway, creek and overhanging trees protecting the green. Many a rules interpretations come into play, especially when the tees are forward which creates a scenario where younger players challenge the hole and try to get home in two. “In all the years I’ve worked that hole, I can count on one hand how many times players get a favorable kick after hitting the trees on the right side. Then I watch Mike McCoy and Gene Elliott hit their third shots from the fairway and make birdie.”

His best advice for players of all ages is to know and understand the Rules of Golf and to observe the pace of play standards. “This is my opportunity to give back to the game of golf and hopefully raise interest, awareness and involvement of rules officials,” he said. “I’ve met so many great people through this game.”

“Up and Down” the Iowa Golf Scene

A regular feature column written by IGA Foundation board member Mark Gambaiana, Up and Down the Iowa Golf Scene is designed to take the reader beyond the headlines and scoreboards to share stories of those who help make Iowa golf so rich and rewarding. Profiles will spotlight those who advance the game through volunteerism, service, extraordinary achievement, competition, human interest and the many other dimensions of golf in Iowa.

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