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LPGA Tour pros embroiled in backstopping controversy

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Update: 2/22, 9:50 p.m. The LPGA released the statement below

End update

Backstopping has been a controversial subject in the game of golf as of late, and this week during the Honda LPGA Thailand, an example of backstopping occurred that has left many golf fans on social media irate, primarily for what happened directly after the incident.

The incident took place on the final green during the second round of the event and features Amy Olson and Ariya Jutanugarn at the heart of the controversy.

Playing her chip shot from the side of the green, Jutanugarn cosied her ball up by the hole, and while seemingly courteously seeking permission from Olson to tap in her putt before the latter played her greenside shot, she appeared to be waved off. Olson then backed off, played her shot, and her ball, which looked to be running well past the pin, collided with Jutanugarn’s and settled right beside the hole. The two then laughed and celebrated the development with a fist-bump.

Neither player received a penalty for the incident, which many golf fans feel violated rule 15.3a/1, which states

In stroke play, under Rule 15.3a, if two or more players agree to leave a ball in place on the putting green to help any player, and the stroke is made with the helping ball left in place, each player who made the agreement gets two penalty strokes. A breach of Rule 15.3a does not depend on whether the players know that such an agreement is not allowed.

For example, in stroke play, before playing from just off the putting green, a player asks another player to leave his or her ball that is near the hole, in order to use it as a backstop. Without knowing this is not allowed, the other player agrees to leave his or her ball by the hole to help the other player. Once the stroke is made with the ball in place, both players get the penalty under Rule 15.3a.

The same outcome would apply if the player whose ball was near the hole offered to leave the ball in play to help the other player, and the other player accepted the offer and then played.

If the players know that they are not allowed to make such an agreement, but still do it, they are both disqualified under Rule 1.3b(1) for deliberately ignoring Rule 15.3a.

Amy Olson currently sits two shots off the lead heading into the third round, while Ariya Jutanugarn is seven shots off the pace.

 

 

 

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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giannimosquito

62 Comments

62 Comments

  1. Tom

    Mar 5, 2019 at 7:15 pm

    Perhaps the LPGA would draw more viewers if the attractive players just wore G-strings and pasties with high heels? (Picture Carl (Bill Murray) at the ball washer in Caddyshack!

  2. CJ

    Mar 4, 2019 at 7:35 pm

    The fist bump was the thing that made me more mad than anything. I don’t like what she did but the tours need to figure out their rules and consequences asap

    • geohogan

      Mar 29, 2019 at 10:04 am

      If Potus can get away with collusion with our worst enemy, why get excited over to professional golfers colluding to cheat the rest of the field.

  3. JP

    Feb 28, 2019 at 12:45 am

    Let them use backstops all they want. But make both players play their ball where it lies after they come to rest.
    .
    I guarantee players close to the pin will ALWAYS mark their ball.

    • Caroline

      Feb 28, 2019 at 6:07 pm

      Just another reason to slow down play…plan BS just replace the ball at rest where it was and the new ball plays where it ended up…simple…backstop, players are so good they can hit balls on the green and not the hole..hole is 4 times larger…

      • Sandra

        Feb 28, 2019 at 7:58 pm

        You just don’t get it. It’s not that they’re so good they can hit another golf ball. It’s when they miss the hole, they have a chance of hitting the other ball rather than running by too far. Have you considered the rule was written for a reason?

  4. KJ

    Feb 26, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    They both should have been DQ’d per the rules of golf. Im not buying the Im just a pretty dumbgirl routine. She is at the elite level of golf, so she knows the rules or should know the rules. I knew it and Im a 10 handicap hacker. They agreed period!

    In stroke play, under Rule 15.3a, if two or more players agree to leave a ball in place on the putting green to help any player, and the stroke is made with the helping ball left in place, each player who made the agreement gets two penalty strokes. A breach of Rule 15.3a does not depend on whether the players know that such an agreement is not allowed.

    Once again they KNOW the rules at this level. If the players know that they are not allowed to make such an agreement, but still do it, they are both disqualified under Rule 1.3b(1) for deliberately ignoring Rule 15.3a Bang see you later!!

    All stated this does NOT make them cheaters……….it makes them people who should have been issued a penalty for a rules infraction.

    Anyway it looks like the Everyone gets a trophy crowd has made it to the LPGA.

  5. mario

    Feb 26, 2019 at 9:47 am

    Good thing those referees are not taking a decision on the Irish backstop… That would last another two years

  6. Rufus T. Firefly

    Feb 26, 2019 at 9:14 am

    This is why some people avoid this game. Too many judgmental assholes looking for an issue.

  7. GrandpaDino

    Feb 25, 2019 at 5:12 pm

    Another solution in search of a problem. Play on, girls!

  8. Charlie

    Feb 24, 2019 at 11:00 am

    Let’s acknowledge the grey area involved here! The rule states when chipping up from just off the green….being said, what is the difference between 30 yards off the green, or 160 yards from the green? If you acknowledge the terminology of just off the green, that would be closer to being on the fringe versus 20 to 30 yards away. Are players going to go mark a ball from 150 out? No! So let the players use the rules to their advantage for a change!

  9. Ace

    Feb 24, 2019 at 9:01 am

    They did it but the question is how are you going to prove it? Answer…Your not

    That being siad its a dumb rule that will never really be enforced so best thing to di is remove the dumb rule and accept the fact sometimes players will get these “breaks” rather intentional or not.

  10. Gunni

    Feb 23, 2019 at 8:09 am

    Don’t worry, Karma will prevail.

  11. Ozarkgolfer

    Feb 23, 2019 at 7:54 am

    Penalties to both – obvious backstopping. No one is asking for balls to be marked when players are over 100 yards out – it makes sense when there is chipping and pitching green side.

  12. Hppyglmr

    Feb 23, 2019 at 4:50 am

    Happy Gilmore says phhhuq your rules, snobby dooshwads.

  13. Ni

    Feb 23, 2019 at 3:01 am

    Why is this even an issue? Clearly she hit Ariya’s ball by luck. Especially from where she was.

    • doug miller

      Feb 23, 2019 at 6:55 am

      I agree 100%. If she is good enough to do it on purpose just hit the pin every time, pure luck!!!

  14. dat

    Feb 22, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    I originally though this was about players using the grandstands as backstops….then I read the article.

    Stupid. This rule isn’t being broken, it is pure chance. Get out.

    • geohogan

      Feb 22, 2019 at 11:14 pm

      The way the rule is written, it isnt necessary that the opponents ball ended up being a backstop or not.
      Simply playing the shot, while the opponents ball was in position to be a backstop is sufficient to incur the penalty for each player in stroke play.

      ignorance of the rule, is no excuse from being penalized or disqualification.

  15. youraway

    Feb 22, 2019 at 5:32 pm

    The Rules are written, agreed upon and published by the R&A and the USGA. This is an obvious and flagrant violation of the Rule. It’s not only clear, but it is recorded. BUT, this is an LPGA event and I have no doubt, they will not enforce the Rules, which calls for the DQ of both players.

  16. benseattle

    Feb 22, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    Backstopping is an affront to the game and about as close to cheating as you can get because it involves not ONE but TWO players. The rule can be as simple as “balls near the cup must be marked before another player makes a stroke IF BOTH PLAYERS ARE NEAR THE GREEN.”

    In this case, Jutanugarn should have ignored Olson’s “wave off,” (even if done to speed up play) and marked her ball. Of course it’s absurd to infer that Olson TRIED to hit the resting ball but the fact remains that because the ball was left nearby INTENTIONALLY leaves open the (slim) chance that Ariya’s ball could serve as a backstop. This is a bad, bad look for ANY tournament golf so let’s just eliminate the controversy and instruct golfers to mark a ball near the cup “when in the vicinity of the green.” You’re in doubt about what that means? THEN GET UP THERE AND MARK IT.

    Why is backstopping wrong? Because it can give a player an advantage NOT AVAILABLE TO THE REST OF THE FIELD. And it’s preventable.

    • Piter

      Feb 24, 2019 at 2:57 pm

      It’s luck of the draw really. 5mm to the right and she would’ve been worse off. This time she was lucky so she smiled and so did Ariya coz id doesn’t affect her anyway. It’s not like me there are 6 balls you might “accidentally” bump into.

  17. Tom

    Feb 22, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    Notice the size of crowd in the video? NOBODY there…..nobody cares…..

  18. Pete

    Feb 22, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    Lets be honest, neither player ‘agreed to leave the ball there with the intention of helping the other player’ even if they did so non verbally. So while its a scummy move and definitely cheating, they found a way to not be in contravention of the rule. The fist bump was all about sharing a fun moment of hitting anothers ball which is rare as opposed to the, ‘hell ya, cheating is awesome’ accusation

  19. Lance

    Feb 22, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    The fist bump was simply inferring that it was a good break. Neither one of these players should be labeled as cheating here. The rules are very intricate as we all know and my bet is that neither one of the players were aware of the optics here. I understand players are responsible to know the rules but let’s cut them some slack here. I can guarantee that Ariya is the consummate professional and would never not do her part to protect the field. #letsfocusonsomethingvalid #peoplearetoughbehindakeyboard #beeducatedbeforecastingpoorjudgement

  20. Tiger Noods

    Feb 22, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    This rule requires clarification. It implies that this is during a sequence when players are putting.

    How many times have we all said, “Don’t bother; it’s not like I’ll hit it.” 99.9% of the time you’re right. In a pro’s case, maybe that’s 98%. Either way, I can’t see how this was a conspiracy. This is not a penalty, and the norms of the game do not require you to mark when another player is not close enough to use a putter.

    Molehill, not mountain.

    • youraway

      Feb 22, 2019 at 5:46 pm

      That’s not what it implies at all. A player should not leave their ball in position to assist. I assure you leaving a ball on the green while another is putting would not assist but the player would incur a penalty if their ball struck another ball left on the putting surface.

      • Tiger Noods

        Mar 4, 2019 at 5:58 pm

        You can’t even spell your own nickname correctly. Go worry about knee-height drops, troll.

  21. Dennis Wimd

    Feb 22, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    Not a penalty. What if they’d been 200 yards off? Where is the line?
    Remember if a ball strikes a ball on the green the striking ball remains where it lands and the struck ball is replaced.

    • Mike Cleland

      Feb 22, 2019 at 1:59 pm

      I agree with you. Where’s the line? Get the blue blazers involved & we’ll be marking balls before we hit our second shots on Par 5s. The way to speed up play is to “simplify” the rules. I suppose the USGA believes if they aren’t constantly getting involved in every little issue they couldn’t justify their $800,000/year salaries.

      • joey5picks`

        Feb 22, 2019 at 3:53 pm

        The line is common sense and not unduly delaying play. Bottom line, they broke rule 15.3a. Both should get a 2-stroke penalty.

  22. Bill

    Feb 22, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    Ridiculous behaviour. Olsen’s ball would’ve been about 8ft past. Bet Ariya wouldn’t leave her ball there if both had to play from where their respective balls finished.

  23. Mike Cleland

    Feb 22, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    What’s up. Do we need a rules issue at every event? The USGA & their blue blazers haven’t learned the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’…is there a lawyer on every hole? The USGA isn’t happy unless they are on the front page every week.

    • joey5picks

      Feb 22, 2019 at 3:56 pm

      The USGA doesn’t govern Australia. The R&A does. USGA only governs US and Mexico.

      • Aztec

        Feb 22, 2019 at 9:49 pm

        Wrong, it’s Golf Australia. They may choose to adopt R&A policy, but they are the governing body. Why would you think the R&A has an official voice in Australian golf?

        • Christopher

          Feb 23, 2019 at 11:49 am

          Like joey5picks posted, the R&A are the governing body for over 110 countries, Golf Australia literally confirms it (and the USGA’s) on their site. They can implement their own local rules, but they’re governed by the R&A.

    • geohogan

      Feb 22, 2019 at 11:23 pm

      if professional then know the rules or get out of the game.
      We wouldnt have issues or delays if players knew the rules,
      rather than trying to circumvent the rules.

      if players delay for rulings which should be known to them,
      the pga should begin suspending those players.

      it will speed up play and maybe the players would take time
      to learn the rules of the game they play for a living.

  24. BD

    Feb 22, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    Individuals cheating is bad enough. But much worse, and more damaging to the Int Egypt the game, is the collusion of the LPGA (and, in other examples, the PGAtour) in such cheating by failing to penalise such behaviour.

  25. kirk brady

    Feb 22, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Back stop – maybe
    an object for lining up trying to make the chip – most likely – and no penalty there

    When is the press going to stop creating controversies to get readers – between this and organizing the extortion of Kuchar, I think the sporting press deserves an enema and 10 mile run with full pack.

  26. Dave

    Feb 22, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    Oh, it’s just the LPGA? Who cares, almost as irrelevant as the WNBA. Wish they would cut TV coverage of it entirely.

    • Steve

      Feb 22, 2019 at 2:42 pm

      Wow…a trumpster….

    • DougE

      Feb 22, 2019 at 4:59 pm

      I care. I enjoy watching the LPGA and personally, I think those girls offer a great product. You wish you were 1/2 as good. But, I’m guessing you are not and probably never will be with such a poor attitude. Sorry, but misogyny is not attractive, nor does it make you better than women.

      What is your problem? LPGA golf is much closer to the kind of golf most of us can relate to. Evidently, you think it is beneath you. You will likely never have the game of a PGA Touring pro, so why not learn something from watching the girls. With some practice, you may even be able to make some of the shots they can make. I learn so much watching them. You might too if you gave them a chance. But hey, I’m just an old 5-6 handicapper, so what do I know?

      One thing I do know is that I’d bet on Ariya, or Lexi, every day of the week over betting on anyone who thinks the girls are irrelevant.

      • Dave

        Feb 23, 2019 at 2:59 am

        You are of the minority demographic that enjoys LPGA and Champions Tour coverage, Doug. That’s not subjective, that’s fact. I know your feelings are hurt, but very few even care about LPGA and Champions.

        Sorry I’m not attractive to you, buddy.

  27. Mohamed

    Feb 22, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    The bigger question is – how do you prove intent. Also, both were playing off the green, so if they were 100yards away and this happened – what then?

    • Jim

      Feb 22, 2019 at 1:04 pm

      You’re right. The key word here is “intent”. If Amy intentionally asked for this, intentionally planning to try to hit the ball, then the penalty applies. If she was just ready to play and not wanting to wait and was not even expecting to hit the other’s ball, there is no intent.

      Due to the way the pair reacted, it was a celebration of luck!

  28. Jim

    Feb 22, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    They need to be penalized. Both were complicit once Ariya stutter stepped to NOT mark her ball and then the fist bump confirms the agreement.

  29. Doug

    Feb 22, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Tom is a tool. This is definitely cheating. Olson waived Ariya off for the very reason of backstopping. Ariya should be protecting the field. A fail for both sides. Disappointing that both tours are failing to uphold the integrity of the same.

  30. Timothy Covey

    Feb 22, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    Stupid. What are the odds even if the plan was to hit the other ball that she would actually hit the other ball. If shes that good she should just chip it in the hole on every hole every time. Might as well cause you’d have to be that good. The fact that people are even upset let alone irate is just pure ignorance.

  31. Mon

    Feb 22, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    It really did not look like she was doing it do use the ball. I think she was ready to hit and waved off the other player who was still standing off the green.

    • joey5picks

      Feb 22, 2019 at 3:59 pm

      The “other player” has the right, and responsibility, to mark her ball to protect the field. This was a perfect example of Olson gaining an advantage on the field.

  32. kevin

    Feb 22, 2019 at 11:28 am

    apparently as the lpga and pga continue to alter the rulebook, they forget to actually enforce the rules.

    this is an embarrassment to the LPGA, and the other players should be calling this for what it is…cheating.

  33. Tom

    Feb 22, 2019 at 11:15 am

    Not a big deal, few watch LPGA…

    • snapjack

      Feb 22, 2019 at 12:30 pm

      Only Tom could come up with that kind of answer. The normal retort is, why are you here then, but in this case I say to you Tom, GFY

      • Tom

        Feb 22, 2019 at 1:48 pm

        Ohhhhhhh….snappy typing all tuff n sheet…..lol!

    • Dave

      Feb 22, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      Completely agree with you. I’m always annoyed when I turn to the Golf Channel at night to catch up on the PGA Tour highlights/coverage from earlier in the day, and we are forced to watch someone named Pornanong hit driver 235 in a tournament in Thailand.

      • Elmo

        Feb 23, 2019 at 10:22 am

        Racist too!

        Bring in religion and you’ve got the triple threat!

        Yeehaw KKK golf.

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Bubba Watson makes $20,000 donation to First Tee of Detroit to honor Dan Gilbert

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Bubba Watson, who is teeing it up at this week’s inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club, has donated $20,000 to The First Tee of Greater Detroit, wanting to honor what Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert has done for the city of Detroit.

According to The Detroit News, the multiple Masters champion decided to make the $20,000 donation following Monday’s youth clinic at the club.

“With Dan Gilbert, the Rocket Mortgage team, the tournament, I wanted to honor him somehow and the only way I could think of it, because of golf, is I’m going to donate $20,000 to The First Tee of Greater Detroit. I saw the (youth) clinic yesterday. So, sometime today a check will be going out for 20-grand coming here to Detroit and being here for The First Tee in honor of Dan Gilbert.”

Gilbert suffered a stroke at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak last month. Last week, company officials said Gilbert was discharged from the hospital and had now been moved to an in-patient facility, which is the typical next step in the recovery process of those who have suffered a stroke.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, a close friend of Gilbert, spoke in glowing terms after hearing of Watson’s donation, stating

“That’s awesome. I think what a lot of athletes don’t get credit for is there are so many things they do and so many people pulling at them. A little here, a little there and it adds up. So many of these guys do so many cool things for so many people.

It makes me feel good for a superstar like that to care about an area that he has no real connection here. I think that tells you the human element of this thing.”

Watson tees off in the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Thursday at 7.25 AM ET alongside Hideki Matsuyama and Billy Horschel.

And if you want to join Bubba, you can donate to the First Tee of Greater Detroit here

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Morning 9: ANWA keeps same date | WGHOF’s credibility issues? | Maria Fassi is coming

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By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com)

June 26, 2019

Good Wednesday morning, golf fans.
1. Keeping the date
AP report…“The LPGA Tour will have a new tournament in Florida at the start of next year — and likely another one in the late spring. The Asian swing of limited-field events at the start of the year is adding a tournament with a full field and a cut.”
  • “And perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle: The ANA Inspiration is staying put. It again will be one week before the Masters and the same weekend as the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, which stole the spotlight from the LPGA Tour’s first major, not to mention some of the amateurs.”
  • “Still to be determined is whether it stays that way.”

Full piece.

2. Credibility issues? 
Geoff Shackelford…”A big congratulations to LPGA rookie Hannah Green on her first win and first major win in the KPMG LPGA Championship, nearly doubling her career earnings and already bringing her within one major win of World Golf Hall of Fame eligibility.”
  • As the World Golf Hall’s Twitter account reminded us:”
  • The tweet: “Hannah Green is one Major Championship closer to Hall of Fame qualification…

Full piece.

3. BMW coming back
Golf Digest’s Brian Wacker…”The BMW Championship, one of the PGA Tour’s three FedEx Cup Playoff events, will have a new name in 2020, a source confirmed to Golf Digest on Tuesday.”
  • “The luxury automaker’s contract with the tour and Western Golf Association runs through this year’s tournament in August at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago, and the source said the company will not stay on as title sponsor beyond that. Efforts are underway to find a replacement for BMW ahead of next year’s event.”

Full piece.

4. Dire straits
...more “no money for anything” than “money for nothing”…
Bill Speros with even more on Zach Sucher’s breakthrough (via Fore Play)
  • “I can’t even wrap my head around it, to be honest. Two months ago, we had two credit cards wrapped up. We talked about taking out loans on our house,” Sucher said in an interview with the Fore Play podcast from Barstool Sports.”
  • …”We can do two interest-free credit cards and we can max them out. When they’re maxed out, we’ll let them sit there and we will have 12 months to pay them off. And in 12 months we might be in a terrible place that we don’t even want to think about, but we bet on ourselves,” he told the Fore Play podcast.
5. 81 years old: 2 aces in 6 holes
Golf Digest’s Joel Beall…”Last week 81-year-old Chuck Miller made two aces at the Cortez Course in Hot Springs, Ark. The first came on the 12th hole, a 135-yard par 3, the second at the 138-yard 17th. In both instances, Miller used a 6 iron.”
  • “When the first one went in on the 12th hole, I was really excited,”Miller told KARK.com. “It was a great shot over the front bunker onto the green; it bounced once or twice and went into the cup. We all jumped and shouted.”
6. Fassi cometh
AP report…[Maria Fassi and family]…”lived near the Club de Golf in Pachuca, about an hour north of Mexico City, and their mother wanted them active in as many sports as possible. Lorena Ochoa was just starting her rise to No. 1 in the world. Even so, golf was never a priority in soccer-mad Mexico.”
  • “I don’t think it’s a sport a kid would say, ‘Hey, Dad, I want to play golf,'” Fassi said. “We lived at a golf course in Pachuca, nine holes. I would go with my brothers to watch them hit. From there, the head pro says, ‘You come here, but you never hit.’ So I started swinging at it. And I really liked it.”
  • “And now the golf world is watching her, curious what her dynamic swing and personality can do for the LPGA Tour.”
7. The best golf club innovations? 
Terry Koehler, our resident “Wedge Guy” reflects…
“Thinking about this innovation or that got me pondering my own list of the most impactful innovations in equipment over my lifetime (the past 60 years or so). I want to offer this analysis up to all of you for review, critique, and argument.”
“Woods: I would have to say that the two that made the most impact on the way the game is played is the introduction of the modern metal wood by TaylorMade back in the 1980s, and the advent of the oversized wood with the Callaway Big Bertha in the 1990s. Since then, the category has been more about evolution than revolution, to me at least.”
“Irons: Here again, I think there are two major innovations that have improved the playability of irons for recreational golfers. The first is the introduction of the numbered and matched set, a concept pioneered by Bobby Jones and Spalding in the 1930s. This introduced the concept of buying a “set” of irons, rather than picking them up individually. The second would be the introduction of perimeter weighting, which made the lower lofted irons so much easier for less skilled golfers to get airborne. (But I do believe the steadfast adherence to the concept of a “matched” set has had a negative effect on all golfers’ proficiency with the higher-lofted irons)”

Full piece.

8. J.B. on the athletic tape putter grip
Solid work by Andrew Tursky getting the scoop on arguably the Tour’s most curious grip
  • “…Holmes’ SuperStroke Traxion Pistol GT 1.0 putter grip is wrapped with athletic tape that can be found in your local sporting goods store or pharmacy.”
  • About two years ago, Holmes says he started using athletic tape around his putter grip to combat sweaty hands.”
  • “Actually, Holmes doesn’t apply the tape himself, nor does he have a putter maker from the equipment trucks do it. Instead, he trusts his caddie, Brandon Parsons, to apply the athletic tape.”
9. Bagpipes out, Irish flute in for The Open…more programming notes
The Forecaddie writes Yanni’s “Celebration of Man” is getting some Irish flavor
  • “The theme, as you undoubtedly recall, was NBC’s longtime introduction for U.S. Open coverage. It was updated by Yanni when NBC took the music overseas for its coverage of the British. But with the event going to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951, Yanni has woven in a more Irish sounding flute in place of the bold bagpipes used in re-imagining the catchy, dare The Forecaddie say, beloved theme music.”
  • “As for the important stuff: NBC and Golf Channel plan more than 200 hours of “linear programming” including 50 live hours of the actual golf. That’s easily more than any event on the calendar by TMOF’s calculations. Besides loads of coverage on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive and Live From, there will be a documentary commemorating the 10th anniversary of Tom Watson’s near-win at Turnberry (July 8, 9 p.m. ET on Golf Channel) and a Sky Sports documentary chronicling “The Road To Royal Portrush” (July 15, 9 p.m. ET).”

 

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Detroit Golf City

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Woodward Avenue is a major thoroughfare in downtown Detroit. From it, you can see two very unique golf courses, close in proximity but miles apart in every other way.

The first course, the Detroit Golf Club,  is a lush 36-hole Donald Ross design. Privately owned and operated, DGC is set to host the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic this week. This will be the PGA Tour’s first regular event in Michigan since the Buick Open ended in 2009 and the first regular tour event ever for the city of Detroit.

The second course, Palmer Park, is city owned and currently closed. The grass is overgrown, but you can see the bones of a once proud 18-hole municipal track, winding through the 296 acres of the larger public park space of the same name. Originally opened in 1927, the Palmer Park golf course has always been a piece of inner-city Detroit’s fabric. But now it sits empty.

Niall Hay, the Chairman of the First Tee of Greater Detroit, is working hard for these two courses to help each other, and at the same time, help thousands of underprivileged kids in Detroit learn the great game of golf and all the positive things it can bring to their lives.

The First Tee of Greater Detroit was one of the program’s very first chapters. It began in 1997 as a partnership with the LPGA, the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America, PGA Tour and the USGA with a simple goal to get more kids playing golf. It started as a way to bring affordable golf to communities that needed it. Detroit was an obvious choice, but eventually, like so many other things in Detroit, the economic recession caught up to it.

“During the economic meltdown, the chapter just went away for a variety of reasons. Mostly funding,” said Hay.

But in 2012, Hay, a former member of the Ohio State golf team, decided to look into exactly what went wrong with the First Tee program in Detroit. First, he met with past chairmen and former board members. They all gave the same story. The program just died a slow death as the funding dried up. Members of the board moved on to different things. But they all said it was a great organization and one of them suggested that Hay start it back up. “I was looking to potentially join a board, not found one,” Hay said with a chuckle. But it was him or no one. So he did it.

A small group in the city of Ann Arbor was already working with the First Tee on getting a chapter started for Washtenaw County, but funding was proving, yet again, to be an issue. So Hay and others had to wait for that to be resolved before they could obtain a letter of intent for a chapter in Detroit from The First Tee. But he was certain that his community needed the program in place.

“If we were going to do this,” Hay said,  “we need to do it in the city of Detroit, in the inner city and impacting underprivileged kids in the city and not in suburbs or other areas. We wanted to stay in downtown Detroit where there is the most need.”

The first steps were to form a foundation, gain 401(c)(3) non-profit tax status from the IRS and then form a diverse and talented board. This took some time. Then, they needed to find the money to fund it. This took more time. But Detroit is a strong community and several local businesses were willing to partner to get things back up and running. And in June of 2015, the First Tee of Greater Detroit began with its first green grass program.

Today, the program is as strong as ever, with over 500 students in the spring, summer and fall programs, which all act like a sort of camp for youth development and some golf. Additionally, the First Tee of Greater Detroit partners with local public schools to train its PE teachers to teach First Tee curriculum, the nine core values and related golf activities. Over 13,000 additional kids are reached in the National School Program.

For the first three years of The First Tee Detroit’s rebirth, the green grass program took place at Palmer Park.

“Back then, Palmer Park was a really rundown course. We focused our programming on the front nine, and some of the drier areas on the back,” Hay said. The course had issues with flooding and wasn’t in the best condition, but it was home. A place to play and practice regularly. But after a few years, the city put out a request for proposal, seeking additional management help for its public golf courses. “The First Tee was hoping to pull Palmer Park from the RFP and have the First Tee chapter raise money to make it a high quality 9 hole golf course,” Hay said. “It got pulled from the RFP, they signed with Signet, who put their money into the other three city courses and the Palmer Park course never reopened.”

“So now, the children of First Tee Greater Detroit are spread around a bit. They practice and play some at Rackham, one of the other public courses in Detroit. Some at Maple Lane. There are classes and clinics all around the city. “We do not have a home course or facility now but we have more traction with people. The more the First Tee gets bigger and bigger, the more we would love a home base.”

And with the PGA Tour’s new four-year deal with sponsor Quicken Loans and the Detroit Golf Club, golf interest in Detroit is getting a shot in the arm. More and more kids are signing up with the First Tee Program. And this is just the beginning. PGA Tour events across the tournament schedule are associated with their local First Tee Chapter. Most sites have youth experience areas where the First Tee Experience is promoted and encourages. The core values of the program are on display at tour events and children and their parents alike are exposed to a way to get involved with youth golf. The First Tee of Greater Detroit will have a tent at the Rocket Mortgage Classic adjacent to the Kids Zone.

And just as important, the PGA Tour events donate a percentage of their revenue with the First Tee Chapters. Detroit will be no different in that regard. And some chapters make hundreds of thousands of dollars from these tournaments. “We are one of the primary beneficiaries of the tournament,” Hay said. “The tournament itself will share some of the revenue with local charities. The First Tee of Detroit is one of the charities that will thankfully receive funding from the Rocket Mortgage Giving Fund.”

“It’s a game changer for us,” Hay said about the PGA Tour’s newest stop in Detroit. “It could take us to the next level. Our Board has never been more engaged. We have already seen a huge spike in interest. We have seen 40 to 50 percent more inquiries and kids signing up. Kids want to play and more volunteers are signing up to teach.” In fact, Summer and Fall registration is going on right now and the excitement continues to build.

The First Tee of Greater Detroit has experienced a rebirth. The City of Detroit has experienced a rebirth. And now, as thousands of golf fans drive down Woodward Avenue to watch the best players on the planet compete in the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club, they might also look towards Palmer Park and see the spirit of golf sitting idly by, waiting for someone to give it a chance.

Funding, of course, is yet again the issue. But with the right investor(s), Palmer Park could experience a rebirth of its own. And that would not only help reinvigorate the heart of the city, but also the hundreds and soon to be thousands of kids who are discovering the game of golf with the First Tee Greater Detroit. The Rocket Mortgage event is a great start. Hopefully, this is just the beginning for Detroit golf.

“We’ve got hundreds of acres in the middle of the city where you could put in a really cool nine-hole course and short game area. It would be a great story for Detroit. And it would be great for our community and for these kids.”

If you are interested in helping by giving a donation, you can participate by doing so here.

 

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