Thursday, August 9, 2007

The death of a golf tournament

Another tradition has tumbled.

The Ulster County Men's Amateur golf championship tournament -- commonly known as The Herdegen -- has announced a major format change. Instead of a 72-hole tournament over two weekends at four different courses (not counting a fifth round elsewhere to serve as a qualifier), beginning in 2008 they'll play 54 holes on three consecutive days at three sites.

If that doesn't make my mentor and tournament founder Charlie Tiano turn over in his grave, this will: Beginning next year, the players will be allowed to ride in motorized carts.

As a result, the best-organized, most prestigious and demanding local sporting event in Ulster County -- the one patterned after the U.S. Open -- fades into history. What a shame.

Proponents of the new format say the lengthier Herdegen was taking up too much of the players' time. Tournament officials also said they'd been getting increasing resistance from local golf clubs whose first priority is to their members.

I can remember when local clubs lined up to host The Herdegen. It was a feather in their caps (as well as a revenue generator in the pro shop and at the bar). If memory serves me correctly, one local club owner actually threatened to sue one year when his course was eliminated at the last minute because it wasn't in good enough condition for The Herdegen's high standards.

I can also remember when qualifying for The Herdegen was the goal of virtually every Ulster County golfer with a handicap of 10 or less. (In those days, Tiano closely scrutinized handicaps; only the best players would be in this tournament.)

The point is, The Herdegen was unlike any other local golf tournament (and, for my money, any local sporting event, period). It was tough to get in it, it was difficult to play (and slow play was a no-no) and it was hard to win, particularly when the legendary Leon Randall was in the field.

So now it will be 54 holes. Less golf, but difficult in its own way since it will be on three consecutive days.

But to drive the final nail into The Herdegen tradition, they're going to let the players ride carts. Say it ain't so!

Competitive golf is supposed to be a test of skill, mind and body. Riding a cart is for weekend golfers and Member-Guest tournaments with beer stops on the course, not to determine the county's best player.

Tournament Director and Herdegen participant Dean Palen (by the way, Dean, a tournament director shouldn't be a competitor in the tournament he's directing) says The Herdegen committee will assess what they've promulgated at the conclusion of the 2008 event.

Perhaps they'll see the error of their ways.
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