PGA Tour’s first-ever snow day turned Dove Mountain into a ski lodge

According to the Rules of Golf, snow accumulation is considered casual water.
Robert Beck/SI

MARANA, Ariz. — Playing at home in Philadelphia last week, my pop-up half-slice tee shot on a short par 4 finished near a menacing set of OB stakes. A thin layer of snow, acting like sand, saved me from a reload. I rewarded the snow by playing my second from it and also because I wasn't sure whether snow constituted casual water. I learned on Wednesday, on the first day of the Accenture Match Play Championship, that it constitutes casual water.

"Casual water or a loose impediment," said Mark Russell, the veteran PGA Tour rules official, standing in a green parka in the tournament's rules trailer crowded with sucking candies, hot coffee and copies of that perennial bestseller, "Decisions on the Rules of Golf."

Russell, the Match Play's tournament director, has been a Tour official for 31 years. Yesterday was the first time he can remember play being suspended on account of snow. That is, a snow falling and accumulating while golf was being played. There have been delays because of overnight snow over the years — in Phoenix, in Los Angeles, in Atlanta. But not during a competition. Russell, who wisely does not make a West Coast trip without his parka, could remember only one occasion when golf was played through falling snow, in Greensboro, early in his career.

If you draw an east-west line through the middle of the United States, the Tour, in its wisdom, plays all its winter events below that line. The romantic notion of the nomadic Tour life is that it follows the sun. It's a lie. On Wednesday, there were full-fledged snowball fights in front of the Dove Mountain clubhouse. A couple miles down the road, Ian Poulter was standing at the bar in a black turtleneck and gray plaid trousers, looking for all the world like he was modeling a line of apres-ski attire from the Jean-Claude Killy collection. The pro shop had 100 ski caps. They were gone by 9 a.m., at $25 a pop.

At Lambeau, they play in the snow. At Fenway in April, they play in the snow. At Dove Mountain on Wednesday, Tour life as we know it came to screeching halt.

You would have played. Of course you would have. Get out an orange ball. Putt with a 7-iron. Bear in mind this definition right from the rule book: "Snow and natural ice, other than frost, are either casual water or loose impediments at the option of the player. Snow, by the way, has to be the king of the loose impediments, as others include "dung" and "worms" and "the casts and heaps made by them."

But out on Tour, they're not just whacking it around. Oh, no. There will be no playing of golf in the snow.

Mark Russell called it a day under Rule 33-2-d, governing "circumstances that render the proper playing of the game impossible." Putting with a 7-iron over two inches of snow is not proper golf, although it is about as much fun as you can have wearing long johns and spiked shoes from the Jean-Claude Killy era.

The Match Play is the first of the year's World Golf Championship events, and it draws talent from all over the world. One of Russell's colleagues was a rules official from Malaysia, Wancahi Meechai. Meechai doesn't deal in snow. He didn't have a big green parka. When the snow started to fall Wednesday morning, with the rounds still underway, Russell urged Meechai to seek the comforts of the lodge, where there was a fireplace, hot chocolate, and a comely collection of snow bunnies.

Meechai would not hear of it. He soldiered on until the horn was sounded. He was witnessing history, PGA Tour-style. Everybody was.