As someone who played high school golf and later at the collegiate level — way back in the day — I have to admit I’m a bit flummoxed by the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s decision to contest the Class 4A Regional Tournament Monday at Abilene that involves McPherson High.
I’ve never played what is now Great Life Golf and Fitness, formerly Abilene Country Club. I’ve been told by many that it’s a wonderful layout and it certainly causes me to turn my head its way when driving past on I-70.
But there is a catch — it’s only nine holes.
When you consider 10 teams will be in the regional field with 56 total players, that's an overcrowded boatful.
And they are shot-gunning the tournament — which means there will be groups on every hole, with five of them with two groups. That is somewhat unfair because some golfers will open with a stretch of holes that perhaps are easier than others. I know when I play Turkey Creek, I’m in a routine starting with No. 1 and know the holes where I can pick up shots if I get off to a slow start. I think those who start on a par-5 have a distinct advantage over those who start on a par-3. It’s a lot easier to hit “the big dog” right out of the box than a middle iron.
Having played in hundreds of competitive tournaments — covering 50 years — I can tell you the regional will be as much about patience as it is ability. To make matters worse, judging by the scorecard there’s going to be a logjam on the par-5s as one measures just 513 yards and the other 512. Bombers like McPherson’s Jacob Lackey should have no trouble getting home in two, not to mention there’s a 296-yard par-4 and another that measures 328.
I’m sure the folks at Abilene are proud of their course and rightfully so. But regionals should be played at 18-hole courses. There’s going to be a lot of standing and complaining on tee boxes about the pace of play, it’s a given. Remember at the 4A level, not every team has six players capable of shooting in the 70s and low 80s. There’s going to be some 90s and even 100s, it’s as simple as that.
High school golf certainly has changed from when I played in the early to mid 1970s. Back then, coaches earned their money as they had to make tough decisions. Teams had six players as they do now, but up until 1980 there were both two-man and four-man divisions. A coach had to set his or her lineup and every score counted. Today, there are six-man teams with the best four scores counting. It doesn't hurt if a player or two has an off day.
My high school, Independence in Southeast Kansas, was a golf power. We won the two-man state championship in 1974 and the year after I graduated from high school, Indy won the four-man title in 1976. It won the two-man title in 1979 as well as it was a golden era for the school.
Also back then, the state tournament was a two-day, 36-hole event. To me, and especially with the format we played, this was a truer judge of a champion. Golfers couldn’t catch lightning in a bottle with one good round, you needed two.
I know there was talk around the state several years ago to return to the old days. I think those of us who played competitive golf back then understand that it would be better than the format we have now.