News & Opinion

Indiana seeks to set pace for youth golf

Indiana and Kentucky enjoy a spirited sports rivalry, with basketball at the heart of the border states’ quest for bragging rights. Though high school golf doesn’t draw nearly the attention as hoops on either side of the Ohio River, the sport does generate a solid following. A recent decision on the southern side of the river has gotten plenty of attention.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association drew the ire of players, coaches and parents – and even Justin Thomas and Steve Flesch, both Kentuckians and PGA Tour winners. The KHSAA’s Board of Control voted to decrease its field size at the state high school golf championship (“In the news,” Feb. 21). In the past, schools played five golfers and counted four scores. A new rule eliminates the fifth player, reducing the overall field size to 144. The KHSAA decision apparently was implemented before seeking feedback on the format change from other golf entities in the Bluegrass State.

Indiana took a different approach.

I own and operate Legends Golf Club in Franklin, just south of Indianapolis. We hosted the boys and girls state high school golf championships from 2000 to 2015. Since then, we have hosted sectional and regional competitions. I have seen a steady decline in the overall pace of play in Indiana junior golf. My boiling point was reached in 2017 when our Johnson County boys high school tournament took more than six hours to complete. A few months later – boys play in the spring and girls in the fall – our girls sectional finished in a painfully slow 6½ hours.

Initially, I reached out to Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director; Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour’s former commissioner who remains an active force with the First Tee of America; and Amy Saunders, the late Arnold Palmer’s daughter, mother of PGA Tour player Sam Saunders and an official with the Arnold Palmer Foundation. My thought was to institute a national junior-golf pace-of-play initiative and name it after one of the game’s fastest players, Palmer.

Davis suggested that we explore a local initiative and pledged whatever resources the USGA could provide with pace-of-play data. If our initiative were to be successful at the local level, he said that it could be expanded. He was right.

Indiana formed an influential task force that was composed of the Indiana High School Athletic Association; the Indiana High School Golf Coaches Association; the Indiana Golf Association and the Indiana PGA. It has taken 18 months for the Indiana group to complete its work, and its plan of attack is in stark contrast to Kentucky’s approach.

Indiana golf leaders decided that education of players and coaches on pace-of-play principles needed to be the main priority. As a result, a 20-minute video was produced to highlight four key areas: course management; pre-shot routine; putting-green techniques; and equipment management. Brian Hammons, a former Golf Channel announcer, agreed to narrate the video, which was filmed at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel.

The teeth behind this video and other components to Indiana’s focus on pace of play came from the IHSAA and its coaches’ association. The video is required viewing for all boys, girls and coaches of Indiana’s high school teams.

“We took the scholarly approach,” said Bobby Cox, the IHSAA’s commissioner. “I’m very proud of our approach and our member-school coaches. These efforts are being recognized and requested beyond our state’s borders, and that is very gratifying.”

In addition to the video, the IHSAA also requires that all of its coaches attend mandatory annual rules meetings conducted by the IGA. Recently, 275 high school coaches convened for their annual conference. They watched the video and became better versed on the 2019 Rules of Golf. Better-informed coaches will be able to offer more on-course rulings and consequently speed up play by avoiding the wait on a rules official every time a ruling is needed.

The IHSAA’s competition committee is recommending that maximum double-par scores be counted in all regular-season and sectional play. In reviewing results from 2017 IHSAA tournaments, the Indiana task force found that more than 1,000 strokes were taken by girls in sectional play after they had reached the double-par score. If the max double-par score had been implemented, the results would have had no bearing on which teams and individuals advanced to the regional level. Think of the time saved by eliminating 1,000-plus strokes.

Finally, at the USGA’s request, the Indiana task force is assembling an operations manual to help standardize the conduct of all high school competitions. Some of the key features:

  • How to establish par time and implement pace-of-play checkpoints;
  • Defining maximum field sizes and eliminating foursomes, when possible;
  • Setting up golf courses with appropriate distances for the quality of the field;
  • Marking courses efficiently.

The manual will be a valuable tool for host PGA professionals as well as golf coaches who run their own local events.

As the IHSAA’s Cox indicated, word is just now filtering out about Indiana’s pace-of-play initiative. Other state associations are contacting Indiana for insight. Indiana wants to help.

Ironically, the Kentucky Golf Association and Kentucky PGA have asked for permission to use the Indiana video.

We’ll score this one as 1 up, in Indiana’s favor, but everybody in golf is a potential winner.

Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: tedbishop38pga@aol.com; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga