High School Golf and the Health of the Game

By Tony Dear

I’m not here to report on last week’s Washington 2A Boy’s State Championship—played at the Creek at Qualchan in Spokane—nor am I trying to convince you that what I witnessed during two days of high school competition on a really good municipal course is an indicator of the way golf is headed in America. But I will say that despite dwindling numbers of High School golfers, and the ever-increasing number of activities youngsters have to choose from these days, what’s unique and special about golf is very much alive.

And if what I observed is any indication, in safe hands.

On the 18th hole in Tuesday’s first round, a kid in the group I was following hit his second into a deep ravine marked with yellow stakes. I watched as he began measuring two clubs’ lengths from the point where his ball crossed the hazard line. As coach of the Bellingham HS team, I was permitted to stop a player from breaching a Rule of Golf or dropping incorrectly, even if he wasn’t from my school. I listed his options, and he elected to drop 50 yards or so behind the point at which his ball crossed the hazard line, keeping that point between him and the hole. He hit his fourth shot from 220 yards up a hill, to a mostly blind pin, to about four feet, and holed the putt for a par five. After removing his cap and shaking hands with his playing partners, he found me in the small gallery behind the green. “Thanks, coach,” he said.

It was a tiny interaction that only he and I saw, but in the microcosm of that 18th hole, I felt content. These kids are not only playing stellar golf, but playing the game the right way.

The only sour note was the ruling, or non-ruling, given to one of my players on the 16th hole. It was complicated situation requiring the intervention of a Rules official, who, after listening to my player explain what had happened, conferred with the head official on his walkie talkie. A ruling was eventually given and my player continued as directed.

However, on the 18th fairway, the head official approached my player and asked for another explanation. The Rules guy thought about it a while and said they would need to “sit down and talk” before the scorecard was signed. He said a penalty stroke may be imposed. My player, desperately close to the cut-line, had to play the remainder of the hole unsure of where he stood.

Hello, Dustin Johnson.

I couldn’t help but think that golf’s incredibly flawed procedure for dealing with Rules decisions like this will push players away from the game or prevent them from ever trying it in the first place. Imagine if my player went back to school and had to explain to his friends why he had been penalized a shot, and how that penalty was administered. Imagine how distraught he would have been, how frustrated his coach would have been, and how upset his father—who drove 360 miles to follow his son—would have been had he failed to make it to the second round because of a Draconian Rules issue only the man imposing the penalty could understand.

Thankfully, there was no penalty and my player made the cut. And instead of turning his friends off from golf forever with his mystifying rules story, he got to show them the sportsmanship medal he won for the mature, dignified way in which he handled himself during the whole unfortunate saga.

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Did you play high school golf? Tell us about your favorite memory in the comments below!

7 thoughts on “High School Golf and the Health of the Game

  1. I played HS golf back in the late 80s / early 90s in Portland, OR. It was one of the best experiences in my life and I hope my son gets to have that experience if he takes to the game like I did. Winning the Portland city championship (team, not individual) and playing in the state tournament was simply an awesome experience. It also solidified a friendship with my best friend that we still share to this day with our annual golf trips despite living in separate states. Golf is now simply a part of who I am and I am eternally grateful.

  2. This is not a favorite memory but more of a reflection. I played high school golf in 1964-67. I am still an avid player today. I often recall our clubs, including golf balls that we used. Much has changed and improved the the past 50+ years. The game itself is essentially the same but technology has profoundly impacted the quality of play.

  3. I have written whole short stories about my experiences in High School golf. Of course, my high school days were the Palmer-Nicklaus era, but I think the observations and experiences resonate with lots of people.

  4. The story above warms the heart considering some of the bad press about the younger generations values. Regarding your comment on these unbelievable DJ/Lexi ruling type delays. You’re spot on how this could have a damaging effect as it already has on my nineteen year old nephew whose been playing since 12 and is now seriously considering giving up this Great Game because of the flawed rulings process. We need to continue streamlining the rules for sensibility, timeliness and the removal of outside influence, and that’s coming from a long-time traditionalist. Make it fun, uncomplicated, and it still offers itself as the greatest game one can experience either by yourself or with friends and family for an entire lifetime. Thanks for your story.

  5. High school golf has been special in my life. I played on the first team ever at John Burroughs H.S. in Burbank, Calif. in 1954 and one opponent that year was Al Geiberger. My family moved East the following summer and in 1955 played on the first team ever at Briarcliff High School in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. It was great to get those programs started. Almost 50 years later I retired to Hilton Head Island, S.C. and was fortunate to be the coach of the girls golf team at Hilton Head High School that won state championships in 2001 and 2003. All great memories.

    Brad Tufts

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