19

The Past, Present and Future of Golf

The game of golf can and does reveal both the good and bad sides of people. Think you might want to hire a person for a job? Then take that person golfing. Observe. If that person can’t count all his or her strokes on a golf course, you can’t count on that person in life.

Golf claims to need and nurture integrity like no other sport. It does not prescribe or require a contest official to observe every action but is designed to be a game where each competitor plays the ball as it is found and counts every attempt to hit it. The rules of golf are without leniency for a player who records an incorrect score yet depend on that player, and no one else, to count all strokes and assess any penalties that add to the score.

As a youngster, I played regularly with my parents. My mother was the club rules chairperson for many years. I was told in no uncertain terms to “play my ball as it lies and tell no lies about my play.” 

Golf certainly has its detractors . . . for example, its pace is slow and its price is high. But over years, and with enlightenment that arrived too slowly, golf has addressed its worst blind spots and opened its choicest courses and its most chauvinistic hearts to females and minorities. Its recent outreach to youth is marvelous; its ongoing support of charities is magnificent.

A recent controversy over scores posted by a small group of players at a Michigan High School Athletic Association Regional Golf Tournament has caused some local tarnish on this illustrious worldwide game and brought embarrassment to some players and their schools as well as some criticism of the MHSAA. It was alleged that players from more than one team who were assigned to the same competitive groupings colluded to post lower scores than they actually earned. Neither their coaches nor administrators discovered a crack in the players’ stories, or in their solidarity, in spite of repeated questioning. There was no evidence of acts of cheating, but a suspicious anomaly in the players’ scores caused concern at the Regional meet and since.

If there was a conspiracy of cheating, it was the players who are at fault, which must be shared by the adults in their lives who may have been unable to nurture character to the same degree they developed skills.  

If the only solution to questions of players’ shaving strokes is adult supervision of every grouping at every Regional of all four Divisions, then the soul of the game and much of what it is supposed to teach is lost, and the time spent on the sport may be unjustifiable. At least that’s what our state golf coaches association argued a decade ago when coaches were granted relief from being assigned to accompany groupings and “observe” players. They said they wanted to coach their own kids and not be required to count the strokes of other players.

Studies in other states have demonstrated that golf is the school sport which, on a per-participant basis, causes students to lose more classroom instructional time than any other sport. It’s played off school grounds and very often with non-faculty coaches. It generates no revenue to offset expenses. Add in dissatisfaction with the court-ordered change of seasons for MHSAA Lower Peninsula golf tournaments 10 years ago — and this recent ugly and, for some, unsettled incident — and one is left with more reasons than not for the MHSAA to discontinue tournament sponsorship of golf.

But I love the sport! I grew up playing golf with my parents and spent hundreds more hours with them than my siblings who did not play the game. I had a few great rounds when I was a youngster and eventually settled on the goal of being among the 10 percent of all golfers who break 90. I love the colors and contours of challenging courses, which in my prime I preferred to play at their full length, from the toughest tees and with no “gimmies” on the greens. I now watch more golf on television than any other sport. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about golf over the past decade, but have found little traction when talking about changing traditions of high school golf in Michigan . . . for example, in favor of a Ryder Cup style team tournament — perhaps even coed — conducted in both Spring and Fall where schools (or their leagues) choose the season that fits their needs best. While the NCAA still conducts a Spring championship, it has “modernized” its tournament with match play, and television ratings reveal broader public appeal for the team format that professional players seem to relish. Might we make some changes to modernize high school competition in this state?

This tradition-soaked sport needs to be energized, not eliminated at the high school level. Most of all, it needs to be introduced earlier in rural and urban junior high/middle schools to create the interest and cultivate the skill that will lead to larger and more stable high school golf programs.

Comments

There are currently no comments, be the first to post one.

Post Comment

Only registered users may post comments.

About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 10,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 45 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), is in his second term on the board of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center for nine years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is chair of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation for 2018.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing.