Q&A: Allison Brown, NCAA Division I women's golf head rules official

It’s always comforting when one of college golf’s own returns to a position of influence in the game. That’s the story behind Allison Brown, who last week was announced as the head rules official for NCAA Division I women's golf. Brown played collegiately for Alabama in the early 2000s and spent one season as an assistant golf coach at LSU. She’s had a hand in course setup at NCAA regionals and nationals the past two years and still works for the Tennessee Golf Association.

Brown takes over for outgoing head rules official Jerry Lemieux and begins prep for the 2017-18 postseason immediately. Here, Brown discusses the new gig, her own college golf roots and how players and coaches should look at rules officials:

What are your everyday responsibilities with this new position?

I’ll still be the Director of Women’s Golf for the Tennessee Golf Association, I’m just doing this in conjunction with my full-time job. So it’s really, right now I’m in the planning part. I’m getting ready for a site visit coming up in September and that’s in conjunction with the men’s championship committee and their head rules official. Everybody goes together to the host site and we’ll all meet and do our setup in conjunction with each other. Right now I’m still kind of putting all the pieces together, getting ready for the site visit, first and foremost, and then identifying the four officials that will be the officials in charge for the regional sites and then here in the next couple weeks, I’ll start building the rules team for the championship -- go ahead and hopefully get everybody committed for that for 2018. That’s really where I am right now. Once fall ball starts, any rules situations that come up at a collegiate event, if the committee can’t answer it…then I’ll get a phone call and I’ll help resolve anything remotely. That’s kind of where I am right now as far as that goes, and once we get into the spring it will be more getting ready for the championship. A lot of that is done while I’m here in Nashville.

How important is course setup at this level and what’s the biggest challenge in getting it right?

Brown with her husband, Jason, and beagle, Nola.

Brown with her husband, Jason, and beagle, Nola.

Personally, from my perspective I think golf course setup is one of the biggest challenges of any event, not just this championship but across the board for any golf tournament. It’s even more challenging on the women’s side because we can’t just go to a golf course and go to the back tee and we’re just going to play it all the way back like some men’s events can do. It’s a little different. So it’s just a matter of taking the designer’s plans for the golf course and I kind of think through how they want the hole to be played and then how can I set that up for this field to be able to play it the way it was designed? If the landing zone for this particular hole needs to be at 180 yards and that’s where the second shot is designed to be played, then what tee do we need to play to get to that point? That’s kind of the way I worked through that, but to me, golf course setup and having quality rules officials, those are your two big things to have for a championship.

Now that NCAA golf is under the TV spotlight, does it make your job any different or bring it under more scrutiny?

I’m sure, it is. Thre’s definitely more eyes on you, but having had the background with the LPGA week in and week out, we had the same setup. In the back of my mind, I have that all the time. We don’t have TV coverage for our state events but again, that’s still kind of in the back of my mind to make sure I’m crossing all my t’s and dotting all my i’s to make sure we cover everything on the front end. It’s definitely more, you have to be on your game without a doubt. All the time.

From a rules perspective, what do you think is the biggest issue you see in college golf, something you want to address or maybe even something you might need to brush up on now that you have this role?

For me, the biggest part of that is having the key coaches. When I spent my year at LSU with Karen Bahnsen, it was only one coach at a time. And that’s different, that’s not something I see day to day with my events. So I think that part of it, having the coaches there and as involved as they are is great, but that’s just something for me to kind of brush up on and be more prepared for than I am from a day-to-day standpoint.

It has been 15 years since you’ve been involved with college golf as a player. What would you say is the biggest change from being a player to now coming back to the game 15 years later?

The quality of play, A, from the student athletes. The facilities they’re playing on a weekly basis, the facilities that host a tournament now, they’re so improved. And we had a lot of great opportunities when I was at Alabama, don’t get me wrong there, but the way the game has grown in general, it’s so different. It’s a fun time for me to get back into it and be part of the championship and be a part of college golf. It’s something I tell people every day, if I could go back and do it again, there are a thousand things I would try to do different but I loved every minute of it. That’s what I tell junior golfers. I know a lot of them want to aspire to play at the next level but the college golf experience is such an incredible experience for you so do it at any level – it doesn’t matter what level, what program, just if you get the opportunity take it, enjoy it, excel at it as best as you can. It’s such a neat opportunity.

Sometimes when players and coaches see an official driving up, maybe the first reaction is to sort of cringe or think worst-case scenario here. What would you say to change that thinking or to give players and coaches a way to look at what you do and why you’re out there on the course?

My response to that, and this is what I say at all our player meetings here, is we’re here to help you. We’re not here to cause problems for you, we want to help you. If we see something, we’re going to stop it so you don’t get in trouble, but we’re there to help you play if you have a problem. Bring us in so we can help you get out of a situation or help you not get into a situation. I think a lot of it is just I try to always have that player approach and sunglasses off, how-can-I-help-you approach. And the rules official team that we’ve had the last couple years of the championship, that’s something that Jerry (Lemieux) really worked hard on to build the quality of the rules officials. There’s a great base for that already and I want to continue what he started from that standpoint. He worked really hard to get officials that had that approach of how can I help you and hopefully try to get that stigma of, “Oh no, what’s wrong? Why are they coming up?” You don’t ever want that feeling as a player or as a coach, and as a rules official, I don’t want that perception. When a player needs help, I want to come in and say here’s the situation, let’s get you back in play.