January 15, 2004. Guys & Girls

By: Jeff Shelley

A few years back I was on the board of directors at my Seattle club, Sand Point. Put in charge of the Golf Activities Committee, my primary goal was to ensure maximum participation in the club's 30 or so annual events. Leaving our Women's Division alone as they did their own things, the rota listed men, mixed, senior, and junior tournaments throughout the year. It wasn't a tough task handling the committee as most of the 15 or so members on it had a good time and enthusiastically sought to enhance member participation in the club's golf activities.

One snag occurred when the 18-year-old son of a member - and a pretty good stick - petitioned the committee to allow him to play in the annual Club Championship. Not seeing anything wrong with the request, I ran it by the committee and we all said sure in a written response to the teen. But once the word got out to the "old timers," all hell broke loose. I was stridently reminded in several angry letters that only stockholders could play in this august event.

I was a bit shocked, feeling that the term "club championship" implies a determination to find the club's single best player. I knew it was for men only, as the women had the Women's Division to run their "Women's Club Championship." Then it dawned on me that none of names of the club's previous juniors had ever been inscribed on the Club Championship trophy. And Sand Point has had some true diaper dandies, including former Walker Cupper and two-time PGA Tour winner Rick Fehr, NCAA All-American and former Walker Cupper Mike Gove, and several others. (On the distaff side, the club, founded in 1927, has done even better, spawning LPGA Hall of Famer JoAnne Carner, U.S. Women's Amateur champ Pat Lesser Harbottle, NCAA champion Judy Hoetmer and the amazing Anne Sander.)

Once the negative feedback came pouring in, our motley committee re-addressed the issue and decided to reverse direction and side with tradition. Still a bit miffed, however, in that there still was no vehicle for determining the club's "best" players, the head pro at the time, Ron Stull, the committee and I decided to create a brand-new event that would try to do so.

Thus was Sand Point's "Winter Chapman" born. The tournament, played over the course of Seattle's generally mild winters, was a hit from the get-go and quickly became the club's most popular golf event. Over 100 members, children of members, seniors, men, women, girls, boys, and members of the professional staff have participated in the event, with this year's Chapman down a bit from previous years with a 76-player field.

The club's best sticks, its not-so-good players, mid-handicappers and everyone else is eligible for the Winter Chapman. It's a great format - each player drives, then hits their partner's ball, and then finishes the hole with the best second shot of the two. Once the winning twosomes have emerged from each of the four divisions, the finals are held, with strokes given commensurately to the competition.

All this is a rather elliptical way of getting around to Michelle Wie's upcoming entry in the Sony Open. It's kind of cool to see the 14-year-old playing against adult men - and going head-to-head against the world's best golfers. Yet, on the other hand, there's a part of me that sides with the "old farts" at Sand Point.

At what point in time does the PGA Tour draw a line in the bunker sand and say, "Enough's enough. This organization is for these (a group of clearly defined male) players"?

Perhaps the pro tours should step outside the box and look at an alternative event to appease the clamoring for oddball entries in men's professional golf tournaments (it's only the men's tour as the LPGA has clearly defined rules about eligibility). Maybe they should evaluate a chapman tournament such as Sand Point's, one where both men and women, juniors and seniors, compete head on.

There's something troubling about this callow teenage girl being allowed to tee it up against golf's "big boys." Who's running the show? The tournament sponsors or the PGA Tour? Michelle Wie's parents or the PGA Tour players?

Don't get me wrong. I'll dutifully tune in to the Sony Open and watch Wie along with millions of other golf fans. Who knows? It might end up being good for golf.

I just hope the kid gets through this period and emerges from it with some semblance of self-respect. She's certainly mature for her age and precocious enough to pull it off. I'd also like to see the PGA Tour comes to its senses and, in conjunction with the LPGA and the Champions tours, create a tournament format that will appease the Michelle Wies of the world. Lord knows, the women's and senior men's tours could use a little enlivening.