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A GAME OF CIVILITY

 

Despite an exuberant fist pump here, a thrown club there or an unfortunate remark made by an immature interviewee, golf is still a game of civility played mostly by ladies and gentlemen.

 

Maybe it's because the first golfers were introverted sheep herders and the first ladies and gentlemen were those of the upper crust. Maybe it's because golf is one of the very few sports where there is no human opponent except “old man par” or your inner self. Yes, it can be argued that match play is one player directly against another, but I contend it is still against old man par with the point-win going to the player with the better score. We have all seen moments of self-inflicted ill temper on the course. We have all heard stories about Tommy Bolt and his antics. The pressure and intensity is just too much for some at certain moments. But have you ever noticed that regardless how bad some touring processionals have played on a particular day, the conduct afterward has been cordial, calm and reflective…sometimes in spite of the news media trying to stir things up for a story.

 

Football, basketball and baseball have its brawls (I won't even mention hockey…I know, I just did…and tennis has its all too ubiquitous temper tantrums. Almost every sport I can recall has its “out of control” elements. To be sure there are good stories and well mannered athletes among these sports as well, but golf still seems to be played by ladies and gentlemen, who keep their own scores and call penalties on themselves.

 

As I mentioned, every sport has its “good guys” but let me share two golf “good guy” stories from my own experiences and personal memory bank:

 

In a former life in Massachusetts during the mid 1970s, I had the very good fortune to spend part of the time each year (for five years) as Assistant Tournament Director of an official PGA Tournament. I was in charge of all volunteers, marshals, scoring, leader boards, emergency medical and parking. During the actual tournament week, I was super busy early in the morning and in the late afternoon. However, during the middle of tournament play, I could relax for a bit.

 

On the Saturday of this particular tournament week, I meandered in back of the clubhouse to watch some golf. As it turns out the 9th, 16th and 18th greens were just behind the clubhouse.

 

This story begins with me watching Frank Beard and J.C. Snead approach and putt out at the 16th hole. Frank putted out first and went to stand by his caddy and bag. About two or three steps away stood a small boy about 10 years old. He was whimpering and crying. Frank went over to the boy, squatted down and urged him to be quiet for the sake of JC Snead, still trying to putt out.

 

After Snead finished, Frank asked the boy why he was crying. The boy told him that he walked to the tournament from close by and his mother had given him $5.00 for a coke, a hot dog and a program (remember it was the 1970's) in which he had gathered a few autographs. Some bigger boys had come by and simply stolen his coke, hot dog and program and he was out of money.

 

I was listening to this conversation from only 3 or 4 feet away. Frank told the boy that he only had the 17th and 18th holes to play and he told the boy to stand by "that post over there" and wait for him to finish. I had to stay around and watch this unfold.

 

Sure enough, Frank Beard finished, went to sign his card then came right over to the youngster. He took him to the concession stand, bought him a coke and two hot dogs. He then found a program vendor and bought him a program and then proceeded to lead him past the guard into the player's locker room.

 

I found out later what happened from there by simply asking, Roger Maltby, whom I had gotten to know over the tournament years (he was a former winner of the event). Roger told me that Frank brought the young boy in and told everyone what had happened. All the pros proceeded not only to sign his program but wrote a paragraph to him. Additionally, each pro gave him something like a sleeve of balls, gloves, tees, sweaters, anything and everything. Frank even gave him his "gym bag" just to carry all the stuff he hade been given. I never saw that boy afterward but I bet he had a story to tell his parents and friends!

 

Frank Beard, currently a columnist with Sports Illustrated magazine, might not be on anyone's list of top PGA players in history (although he was the Player of the Year in 1969), but he will always be at the top of my list.

Another Touring Profession that might be considered the ‘master of civility' is Gary Player. One such memory at those same tournaments is that Gary Player, after his round, would always notice and approach tournament volunteers along his walk route and thank them for their support. There was a portico on the side of the clubhouse where we headquartered some of the volunteer operations (scorers, leader-board operators, etc.) I remember Gary Player walking through this area and making a deliberate point of stopping to talk to each volunteer and thank them for their work. He would stay for 15 or 20 minutes and seeming to have a good time just chatting with folks. These are the acts of a true gentleman displaying civility and kindness that are remembered by many for a long time.

 

 

Al Tompkins

Taylors , SC

 


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