The Yips

I have a good friend and great golfing buddy who is a pretty good golfer (he can shoot his age). Many years ago, he started to putt erratically. A change to a one-handed putt seemed to do the trick (and he was pretty good at it). But then when he had to chip, his arms would noticeably recoil into his body just before impact, causing him to blade the ball. It was hard to watch, and he became very frustrated.

He had a bad case of the “yips.”

The term yips is attributed to Tommy Armour, the Silver Scot, winner of three majors. But many other terms have been used, such as twitches, staggers, jitters, jerks, freezing, the waggles, and whisky fingers. It affects athletes in multiple fields, and is said to affect about 40 percent of golfers. Professional golfers who have been seriously afflicted by the yips include Harry Vardon, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Ian Baker-Finch, Ernie Els, David Duval, Padraig Harrington, Benhard Langer, Kevin Na, and Keegan Bradley.

The yips are defined as a sudden and unexplained loss of the ability to execute certain skills. Symptoms include any or all of the following occurring anywhere in the body: freezing up, spasms, tremors, twitching, and physiological distress. (Often psychological distress – anxiety, fear, stress – will be added and increased as you try the affected motion again.) Generally, symptoms occur right before the moment of impact and can affect distance, direction, or both. The yips are most easily seen in putting or the short game, but it is evident (and may occur more often) in longer swing motions up to and including driving.

Maybe because how frustrating the yips can be, it has been recognized as a serious affliction. It has been seriously studied by multiple well-recognized institutions and people, including the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic, and hundreds of scientists. There have been studies of the yips done all over the world, including the US, England, Japan, and Denmark. There are multiple books and lots and lots of videos on what causes the yips and how to cure it.

But there is still uncertainty about its sources and cures.

The Mayo Clinic (one of the top-ranked research hospitals in the nation) reports that the yips are related to a neurological condition: the overuse of specific muscles causing a type of focal or task-specific dystonia (a condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions during a specific task). The Mayo Clinic and several studies conclude that the yips tend to be associated with more mature golfers and golfers with greater experience and lower handicaps. (That’s right, the more you play, the better you get, the more susceptible you are.) Per the Clinic, anxiety worsens the effect.

Because it is at least neurologically based, the yips is not choking, which is solely caused by acute anxiety and stress. On the other hand, the yips can be present whether the yipper is nervous or not. Some researchers see the addition of anxiety as contributing to a spectrum of severity. For example, in P Clarke, D Sheffield, S Akehurst, “Personality Predictors of Yips and Choking Susceptibility,” Frontiers in Psychology, Jan. 20, 2020 (the Clarke/Sheffield Article), the researchers suggest three different categories of yips: muscle spasms or freezing, performance anxiety and psychological symptoms, and muscle spasms and performance anxiety. Another study concluded that the yips is a neuromuscular impediment aggravated but not caused by anxiety, and that the yips represent a continuum where choking (anxiety-related) and dystonia symptoms are the extremes. A M Smith , S A Malo, E R Laskowski, M Sabick, W P Cooney 3rd, S B Finnie, D J Crews, J J Eischen, I D Hay, N J Detling, K Kaufman, “A Multidisciplinary Study of the ‘Yips’ Phenomenon in Golf: An Exploratory Analysis,” Sports Medicine, December 2020. So, unless you have ice in your veins, getting the yips causes a negative feed-back loop: you miss the shot, you get anxious and frustrated and miss the shot again, increasing the symptoms and how deeply the problem is ingrained.

As noted above, older, better, and more experienced golfers are more likely to experience the yips. But there may be other indicators as well. David Own, in a May 19, 2014, article in The New Yorker, “The Yips,” reported that golf research and teaching heavyweights Christian Marquardt, Marius Filmalter, and Hank Haney believe that there may be a genetic component to the yips. David Grand in his article “Cure for the Yips,” Psychotherapy Network, November/December 2015, stated that “often the root of the problem will be traced to traumatic experiences.” Teaching pro Bhrett McCabe in his videos suggests a source of a pre-existing mechanical flaw that surfaces with a stressor.

If you have watched the movie Tin Cup (and if you have not, you should), the cure for the yips is simply putting your change in the other pocket (and double tying your shoe, and turning your visor around, and putting a tee behind your left ear). But, of course, the yips is serious and it takes a serious approach to address it. There are lots and lots of purported cures out there. What one believes is causing the yips will guide the direction of the suggested cure. The Mayo Clinic, who seems to focus on the overuse of specific muscles as a primary contributor, suggests a change of technique or equipment. Its suggested changes include:

    • Grip change, because it changes the muscles used to make the putting stroke (go to claw, pencil, reverse grips; like my friend did).
    • Equipment change, to use different muscles (go to long putters that use more arms and shoulders and less hands and wrists; like Bernhard Langer did switching to long-shafted putters).
    • Change of focus during the stroke (look at the hole when you putt instead of the ball or even closing your eyes; like Johnny Miller did placing a red spot just below his grip to focus on).
    • Change of mental preparation just before the stroke (go to techniques of relaxation, visualization, or positive thinking).
    • Drugs. I was surprised by this suggestion, but the Clinic suggests benzodiazepines (relaxants or depressants such as Valium), baclofen (skeletal muscle relaxants such as Lioresal), and anticholinergic (neurotransmitter blocker such as Clozaril), and propranolol (to slow down heart beat). The Clinic also suggests “a careful” botulinum toxin injection into the muscles that are overacting to help limit muscle contractions. (Note, alcohol is not listed here. The yips does not provide one with an excuse to increase drinking on the course.)

Most of these (including botox injections) are also recommended in the Clarke/Sheffield Article. Most articles/videos I have reviewed recommend one or a combination of the above (except drugs). See, eg, J. Sens, “Can Putting with a 5-Iron Help Beat the Yips,” Golf.com, January 13, 2018 (quoting Mr. Filmalter’s suggestion to use a 5-iron, go barefoot, touch the dirt, get grounded); the blog from Keiser University College of Golf; and videos from teaching pro Todd Kolb.

Mr. Haney and various other researchers focus primarily on changes in hitting style (including grip and focus changes). See, eg, Haney, Hank and Rudy, Matthew, Fix the Yips; the First and Only Guide You Need to Solve the Game’s Worst Curse, Gotham, 2006; Y Gon, D Kabata, S Kawamura, M Mihara, A Shintani, K Nakata, and H Mochizuki, “Association of the Yips and Musculoskeletal Problems in Highly Skilled Golfers: A Large Scale Epidemiological Study in Japan,” Sports (Basel), May 21, 2021.

However, you also have researchers concluding that mechanical changes may not help at all. D Abraham, “What Causes the Yips? This study might help reveal the answers,” Golf.com, May 8, 2021 (changes in putting style may not help at all); N. Saleh, “When Athletes Get The ‘Yips’,” Psychology Today, July 24, 2023 (treatments for the yips are not evidence-based and instead rely on anecdotal accounts).

And then you have psychotherapist David Grand who sees a core cause of the yips as being a prior traumatic experience. His suggested treatment is brainspotting; a therapeutic approach that accesses emotional and somatic areas deep in the brain, It focuses on eye gaze and body awareness to access and process traumatic memories that may be difficult to bring to consciousness. In brainspotting, spots in the visual field are found that trigger emotionally intense memories. Once located, clients are guided to maintain a gaze on these spots while mindfully observing their internal experience. Greater details on this treatment can be found in Grand, David, Brainspotting, Sounds True, 2013.

Did you know that one of the leading teaching golf pros focused on curing the yips is based out of Quail Valley Golf Course, west of Portland?

Jim Waldron has been a teaching pro for over 31 years. He started specializing in curing the yips in 2010. Since then, he has been dubbed the “Yips Whisperer.” He combines a deep knowledge of the Western mechanics of a golf swing (think Hogan, Nelson, and Snead), with Eastern psychological insights (think Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Suziki-Roshi). Golfers from all over the world seek yips relief from him and more golfers may seek treatment from him than any other source. Although he works mostly with golfers, he has also successfully treated athletes from many other sports. He states a 99 percent cure rate when working in-person and a 92 percent cure rate when working remotely.

Jim Waldron

I was fortunate to talk with Jim about his program. (A great interview with Jim by Karl Morris in Mr. Morris’s podcast, “The Brain Booster” can be found here.) Although Jim sees dystonia is a factor that causes the yips, he believes that a lack of confidence (often combined with a high degree of fear) is the primary contributor. The lower the confidence and higher the fear, the worse the condition. As noted above, this can cause a negative loop: fear starts out as fear of a bad shot, but then also becomes fear of the yips and loss of control. Each individual may have additional factors that contribute to the yips, which might suggest slight changes in the approach to a cure.

Once the yips has settled into your game, Jim sees the yips as a bomb, with fuse and fuel. The fuse is the mechanics when they go slightly wrong. The fuel includes a lack of confidence (lack of self-esteem) and fear (of one or many things caused by a fear of a poor result). His belief is that simply changing mechanics or focus can help short-term, but not provide a long-term solution. He therefore addresses the yips by combining four basic strategies: address the negative emotions; learn to better focus the mind; re-set and maintain a pre-shot routine; and, possibly, make minor mechanical adjustments.

For addressing the negative emotions and helping with better focus, he will often have clients purposefully manifest their yips and play badly (on the range and then on the course with other golfers). The goal is to decouple emotions around how you perceive yourself, how you think others perceive you, and what you score from what the golf ball does. Changes in grip and mechanics can also be brought in, as can multiple types of meditation.

Jim’s program is lengthy and rigorous. After a 30-minute intake interview, it generally starts with a two-and-a-half-day intensive session. It’s not a quick fix (but then, as discussed above, the yips is a serious affliction warranting a serious response). If you want to contact Jim, you can at balancepointgolf.com .

I have done a bit of research on the yips, but I am sure that what I have seen and read is not even a sizable fraction of what is available. But from what I have read and watched, it seems that most researchers, pros, and commentators believe that the yips are both neurological and physiological, that it gets worse if not addressed quickly, and that cures are based on change (some internal, some external).

I will not suggest a cure, because not having gone through a treatment, I don’t know. But what I do know is if you start experiencing freezing up, spasms, tremors, twitching, or the like, don’t wait. Don’t ignore what is going on. Don’t beat yourself up and fall deeper into despair. Don’t self-medicate. It’s gonna get worse the longer you wait and the more you try to fight it. The yips is a serious condition that should be taken seriously (from an athletic performance standpoint). Go talk to someone, whether it be your doctor or a pro, and try to identify and start to address the issue(s). Quick fixes may not be the answer, but quickly starting on a recovery plan is.

Life is too short. You should enjoy playing golf every time you play.

IF YOU TEACH A STUDENT TO CADDIE, THE STUDENT’S LIFE COULD CHANGE

“The program changed the entire direction of my life, both in terms of financial support and connections.” Isaiah Troung, University of Oregon Class of 2018, grew up in Portland

“The scholarship changed my life and may have saved my life.” Todd Williams, Class of ’88, Portland

“I don’t know where I would be without the scholarship.  . . . It is so much more than the financial aspect. You become part of a community with resources and life-long connections.” Saul Galvan, Class of ’26, Chicago

“The program allowed me to grow up into myself. It changed my life and let me be a role model and help others.” Lilly Varner, Class of 2025, Portland

These quotes are about the Evans Scholarship Program. The Evans Scholarship is a full (yes, full – all four years) tuition and housing college scholarship for students who have worked as caddies (or at least have done work in or around a clubhouse), who have good grades and high character, and have limited financial means. It is one of the best college scholarship programs in the country and is not that well known. The program is active in Oregon, with a growing number of applicants from Oregon. The reason why I investigated the program is because caddying is key to being selected for the scholarship. What I have learned is that the Evans Scholarship Program is transformational, not only for the students who get to be Evans Scholars, but maybe also for the game of golf.

Brief History

Chick Evans (right) with Bobby Jones

In 1929, acclaimed amateur golfer Charles “Chick” Evans Jr. asked the Western Golf Association (or WGA, located outside of Chicago, Illinois) to administer a fund he had established to send deserving caddies to college. Mr. Evans learned the game of golf while caddying. As he became successful in golf and life, he believed that there were many hard-working caddies who were academically inclined but did not have the financial wherewithal to go to college. Looking back on the program in 1969, he said:

“No one more than I knew that caddies have a love for wisdom. My mother and father believed that education is a vital factor in determining what kind of nation America will be. And so, farsightedly, these thoughts of ours were molded into America through college scholarships for deserving caddies . . ..”

The WGA awarded its first two scholarships in 1930, sending caddies to Northwestern University. (Until World War II, all Evans Scholars attended Northwestern.) From that humble beginning, the program has significantly grown in terms of numbers of applicants, schools where applicants are matriculating, and funds available to provide scholarships. As of the 2023-24 academic year, there were 1,130 Evans Scholars enrolled in 24 different universities, and 12,040 students had graduated as Evans Scholars.

Applications are growing (but still seem relatively small to me, given the benefits). In 2018-19 there were 810 applications and in 2022-23 there were 875. As you will see below, granting of the scholarships is not automatic. Nationally, the acceptance rate has hovered around 35 percent (although I do not think that there is any target acceptance rate by the program), with 325 applications being granted in 2022-23.

The foundation that funds the program now receives contributions in excess of $50 million per year. The foundation is funded by many sources, including contributions from members of Par Club that was established by WGA to support the program; contributions by courses, clubs, and individuals; funds from local golf tournament fundraisers; and proceeds from national championships including the WGA championships and the BMW Championship (one of the events in the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedEx Cup).

The Application Process

Scholarship applications are accepted at the beginning of an applicant’s senior year of high school, as well as from college freshmen (the vast majority of applicants are high school seniors; college freshman that apply are generally those who were denied a scholarship in high school because of something that could be rectified). The deadline for filing the application (which includes supporting documents like evaluations, recommendation letters, transcripts, test scores, a College Scholarship Service (or CSS) profile, and personal essay) is October 15. To qualify, applicants must meet the requirements of having a strong caddie record, excellent academics, demonstrated financial need, and outstanding character. Let’s look at each of those requirements:

  • Strong caddie record: Applicants must have caddied or have worked around the clubhouse, regularly and successfully, for a minimum of two years. There is no minimum number of loops (a round of golf where the student serves as a caddy) required, but the applicant should be working at their sponsoring club/course the year they apply for the scholarship (and the more loops the better). The selection committee often looks to see what other applicants in the geographic area have done (how many loops; what other work was done). [Side note: the Evans website has some great videos on how to caddie (and it taught me the best way to rake a trap).] To become a caddie, it is up to the club/course to accept the applicant (the Evans Scholarship Program is not a youth caddie program).
  • Excellent academics: Applicants must have completed their junior year of high school with above a B average in college preparatory courses. There is no definition of “college preparatory courses,” but generally the courses are considered AP courses and should be academically rigorous.
  • Demonstrated financial need: Applicants must have a need for financial assistance. This is generally shown using tax returns and the CSS profile, an online application used by colleges and scholarship programs to award non-federal institutional aid. Financial need is not a bright line. Evaluators look at the overall situation of the applicant to determine if there is a financial need.
  • Outstanding character: Applicants must be outstanding in character, integrity, and leadership, which is generally shown by letters of recommendation and the activities that the applicant is doing other than going to class and doing loops.

[Note that the applicant must still select which college to attend and be admitted in the normal course to be awarded the scholarship.]

If the written application is approved, the applicant then has an interview (generally 20 minutes) before a selection committee made up of program supporters. The panel then takes about a week to deliberate and contacts the applicant the week thereafter.

Once an applicant is awarded a scholarship and is matriculating, scholars must maintain an above 3.0 GPA and be involved (in a positive way) with school activities (and not do anything stupid). The Evans Scholarship Program provides academic, professional, and social resources that help students maintain the needed GPA. The graduation rate for Evans Scholars is a whopping 95 percent. The Evans Scholarship Program also provides career guidance and a massive amount of business and professional connections that assist the scholar after graduation.

Evans Scholarship Program in Oregon

There are 11 facilities that presently actively provide applicants for the Evans Scholarship Program in Oregon: Willamette Valley Country Club, Eugene Country Club, Oswego Lake Country Club, Waverley Country Club, the Portland Park and Recreation golf courses other than RedTail (Eastmoreland Golf Course, the Heron Lakes courses (both the Greenback Course and the Great Blue Course), and Rose City Golf Course), Gearhart Golf Links, Columbia Edgewater Country Club, the Bandon Dunes complex, and Bend Golf Club. (To apply for a scholarship, you do not have to caddie at any of these facilities, but finding a facility that has a caddie program is limited and these facilities have knowledge about the Evans Scholarship Program, which probably really helps in the application process.)  As of 2023, there had been a total of 341 Evans Scholars from Oregon. Of these, 250 have attended University of Oregon (who began accepting scholars in 1950). In the 2022-23 academic year, there were 23 applications from Oregonians and 9 of those folks were awarded scholarships. The vast majority of applicants from Oregon stay in Oregon to go to college.

Evans Scholars at the U of O Evans House

Several universities across the country provide housing specifically for Evans Scholars. The University of Oregon opened its Evans Scholarship House in 2016. It can house up to 38 scholars (I hear, comfortably). Almost all residents are from Oregon, but Evans Scholars from other states have stayed there while going to U of O. The house has Residential Advisors and Faculty Advisors, and has a Scholars’ board providing for self-governance. In the 2022-23 academic year there were 33 Evans Scholars at the House, 29 from Oregon and SW Washington.

The Oregon facilities who have had the greatest number of Evans’ scholars have been: the Portland Parks and Recreation golf courses, through its EAGLE Caddy program (with 77 scholars all time); Waverley Country Club with 66 Evans Scholars; and Bandon with 53 scholars. Note how different these complexes are: muni courses, the oldest private course/club in the state, and a world-renowned golf complex. They each provide a slightly different path to the Evans Scholarship Program, but they all strongly support their caddies and the Evans Scholarship Program. And at none of these places does the potential applicant need to know how to caddie or even play golf.

Eagle Caddy program
EAGLE Caddies at Rose City GC. Photo curtesy of Portland Parks & Recreation
  • The EAGLE Caddy Program (Early Adventures in Golf for a Lifetime of Enjoyment) is run by Portland Parks and Recreation. It focuses on currently-enrolled Portland high school freshmen with solid grades from financially disadvantaged families. It is competitive to get in. You have to show good school attendance, have a 9th-grade cumulative GPA of at least 3.25, and the family’s annual income cannot exceed $75,000. The applicant must agree to work at least 20-hours per week in the summer and sign-up for the entire 3-year program. If accepted, the program provides training, mentors, work-study credit, and part-time employment at a Portland municipal golf course. Students do not have to have golfing experience: you get on-the job training. Students successfully completing this three-year program may then apply for the Evans Scholarship. The program averages ten participants per year, most of them being nonwhite. [And kudos to Portland Parks for directing non-Portland folks to other courses that have caddie opportunities for Evans applications.] For more information on the EAGLE Caddy Program go to https://www.portland.gov/parks/sports/eagle
  • Waverley has many members who are WGA members and are or have been on the Evans Scholarship Board (and they annually host the interviews for the Oregon and SW Washington applicants). Waverley recruits students by contacting counselors at local high schools. Interested students are provided with a simple application that asks questions about the applicant’s financial situation, academics, and character. Applicants do not need golfing experience. In early Spring, almost all applicants are invited to participate in a short caddie training program (where they are provided information about the Evans Scholarship Program). The students then do training loops with selected members and staff. By the summer, the applicants are placed in the caddie pool. They are expected to be at the club two days a week and when asked. If there are no loops available on the days the student is required to be at the club, the student is provided a stipend. Otherwise, the student gets paid as a normal caddie would. Waverley generally has a caddie pool of 30 to 40 and about 2 to 3 caddies are working towards an Evans Scholarship (and Waverley is trying to accommodate more). For more information about Waverley’s program, contact Assistant Pro Tyler Ames at [email protected]
  • Bandon works with local (Coos Bay, North Bend, Coquille and Bandon) high schools to recruit for its caddying program as a path to an Evans Scholarship. Bandon usually has between 20 and 30 such caddies (high school freshmen to seniors) working at the resort each summer. The application process is simple – high school students contact Bandon’s Caddie Services staff. Bandon looks for students who meet the Evans Scholarship criteria, but don’t reject an applicant because they do not yet fit the Evans Scholarship Program standards. The applicant does not need golfing experience (yes, I am repeating myself to stress a point). If accepted (and most are), Bandon then conducts training that consists of caddying for other caddies and staff members. The applicants are evaluated after each round. As soon as they are deemed “guest ready,” the applicants are placed in the caddie pool. Applicants do not get paid until they start caddying for guests. For more information on Bandon’s program, contact Katie Gross, Director of Caddie Services [email protected]

The Broad Positive Effects of the Evans Scholarship Program

I started researching for this article because I was curious about the relationship between caddying and getting a scholarship. Between the time that Mr. Evans set up the scholarship to today, the idea of a caddie has substantially changed: in the 1920s it was a given that a course would have caddies and a caddie shack, and caddies were part of a normal foursome; now few courses, in particular public courses, have caddies, and you take a cart, not a caddie. In the present-day Evans Scholarship Program, Mr. Evans’ original idea to aid people who were already caddies in their academic pursuits has been preserved, but his program has reached an even broader effect (that he may or may not have intended) in at least two ways. First, the application process demonstrates to high school students how caddying can help achieve life goals:

“Being a caddie was the best summer job I could ask for. . . . It accelerated my maturity because it showed me the benefits of working hard and taught me emotional intelligence.” Isaiah Troung

“Caddying taught me the benefits of hard work. . . .I learned how to interact positively with different people and to pay attention to detail.” Saul Galvan

“Caddying was the first time I interacted with adults. It helped me be more confident, especially in social settings.” Lilly Varner

And the benefit of a caddie program with diverse young caddies does not work just one way:

“They [the Evans Scholar applicants] provide as much value to the members as the club provides to them.” Tyler Ames, Assistant Pro, Waverley Country Club

Second, the Evans Scholarship Program has caused more people to be introduced to the game of golf who would not otherwise have been. We know golf is deficient in attracting players that are women and/or non-white. The incoming 2023 Evans Scholarship class included 38 percent women and 36 percent BIPOC folk (this is compared to 25 percent of all golfers being women and 18 percent of all golfers being non-white, as reported by the National Golf Foundation).

The Evans Scholarship Program not only benefits its scholars (in so many different ways) and their families, but also the courses/clubs that use them and the game of golf in general by broadening the game’s appeal.

How to Grow the Program in Oregon

As I stated in the opening paragraph, the Evans Scholarship Program is one of the best college scholarship programs in the country and is not that well known. Although the program is active in Oregon, the number of applicants could increase and the locations where applicants are from could geographically broaden. So what can you do?

Promote the program. If you know a young smart teenager (or a parent of one) that may have financial difficulty in getting through college, tell them about the Evans Scholarship Program. If you know a middle or high school teacher or administrator, tell them about the program. If you are active in your club (private or public) talk to your club or club staff about setting up a supporting caddying program and reach out to the local middle and high schools. Here is a link to the Evans Scholarship Program website which has more about the program as well as applications. https://wgaesf.org For help in setting up a program to support possible applicants at your club or course, contact Todd Melrose, Vice President of Development, Western Golf Association/Evans Scholars Foundation, [email protected]

Donate. Attend local fun raising events. For example, Bandon Golf Club (made up of golfers from the Coos Bay area), hosts an annual dinner and auction to support the Evans Scholarship program. There is also the Evans Cup of Oregon golf tournament, attended by lots of Oregon golf pros, Evans Scholars, Evans alums, and supporters. Unfortunately the 2024 Evans Cup of Oregon is already at capacity, but look for it in following years. You can also sign up to be a member of the WSGA’s Par Club. https://wgaesf.org/content/par-club Or you can simply donate (kudos to the caddies at Bandon for regularly making contributions).

Take A Caddie! This is the best way to support students wanting to be Evans Scholars. If you are playing any of the Portland Parks courses, ask for an EAGLE Caddie. If you are playing at Bandon, ask for a caddie who is working to be an Evans Scholar (or who is an Evans Scholar). If you are playing at any of the Oregon clubs listed above that supports the Evans Scholarship Program, ask for a caddie who is working to be an Evans Scholar. Generally, the caddies are available in the summer (but ask anyway at any time). Yes, it does cost extra, but it will provide a big benefit to the student and you will probably have a better time playing.

Women In Golf In Oregon

I was getting a bit tired of the PGA vs LIV mess, where more attention was being paid to the competition between the organizations instead of the competition on the course. Then: I watched Rose Zhang for the first time; I read that the great Oregon-born golfer (and winner of multiple Oregon junior and women’s state championships) Gigi Stoll won her first Epson Tour event; and watched the Women’s US Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links (which was great). I found that staying in tune with professional women golfers was much more fun than watching the men.

And I wondered about the state of women in golf in Oregon. (I’ll admit that when I started looking into it, I am not sure what I was using for the definition of “state of women in golf.”)

Very Brief History of Women in Golf

Mary Queen of Scots golfing at St Andrews (National Library of Scotland)

For centuries women have been subject to exclusionary and/or repressive tactics and attitudes in golf. Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland from 1542 to 1567, was an avid golfer. During her reign, the Old Course at St Andrews was established (although some of it was built before). But after her death, golf became popular with business folks (read: businessmen), men’s sporting attire was much less restrictive than women’s (you try to hit a driver with a corset), and there was a pervasive male dominant attitude across societies. GOLF became “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.”

This attitude against women golfers lasted well into the 20th century. Here is a 1893 quote reflective of the time., Horatio Gorton “Horace” Hutchinson, golfer, golf writer, and captain of St. Andrews Golf Club, responded with the following to an inquiry on the advisability of forming a professional ladies’ golf club:

I have read your letter about the proposed Ladies Golf Union with much interest. Let me give you the famous advice of Mr Punch (since you honour me by asking for my opinion). DON’T. My reasons? Well?
1)Women never have and never can unite to push any scheme to success. They are bound to fall out and quarrel on the smallest or no provocation; they are built that way! 2) They will never go through one Ladies’ Championship with credit. Tears will bedew, if wigs do not bestrew the green.
Constitutionally and physically women are unfitted for golf. They will never last through two rounds of a long course in a day. Nor can they hope to defy the wind and weather encountered on our best links even in spring and summer. Temperamentally, the strain will be too great for them. THE FIRST LADIES’ CHAMPIONSHIP WILL BE THE LAST, unless I and others are greatly mistaken. The LGU seems scarcely worthwhile.
[Emphasis in original. Mr. Punch was the byline of a golf humorist of the time. The LGU was formed in 1893 anyway and successfully continued until it merged with the R&A in 2017. A round of raspberries for Mr. Hutchinson.]

Women Golfers at Portland Country Club in 1923

Progress for women in golf was slowly made in the late 19th and 20thcenturies: the first US Women’s Amateur was played in 1895, the American Ladies’ Golf Association was formed in 1897, the Women’s Professional Golf Association was formed in 1944, and the LPGA was established in 1950. Yet, certain clubs continued to ban women and/or women members. Augusta National Golf Club did not start admitting women until 2012. In 2019, Sports Illustrated noted that several golf clubs in Great Britain and the US still did not allow women members. Oregon, of course, was not immune: single women were not allowed to be members at Waverley Country Club until 1991. Even after women were admitted as members, some clubs failed to provide separate facilities for women and/or excluded women from playing golf during a substantial portion of tee times.

With this continued overt bias against women in golf, it is no wonder that the number of women playing golf (in the world, in the US, and in Oregon) was vastly below the number of men. Channel Signal (relying on numbers provided by the National Golf Foundation, or NGF) reported in 2012 that only 19% of golfers in America were women.

There was, however, a significant increase in women golfers during COVID. The NGF reported that between 2019 and 2022 there was a 14% increase in women golfers, with women accounting for 25% of all golfers by 2022. More importantly, the NFG reported that between 2012 and 2022, there was a 28% increase in beginning women golfers so that by 2022 41% of beginning golfers were women (and 36% of junior golfers were girls in 2022).

What is Happening in Oregon
I was unable to find any organization in Oregon that was tracking the number of women golfers in the State. The only public courses where I found any tracking where the ones owned by Portland Parks & Recreation, now managed by Kemper Sports (being the two courses at Heron Lakes, Colwood Golf Course, Eastmoreland Golf Course, and Rose City Golf Course). Unfortunately, Portland Parks only recently started keeping track and then only through responses to questionnaires (it’s self-selecting, and the number of female golfers is probably above the 12% that the survey found). NGF believes that Oregon is generally following the national pattern regarding the overall increase of women golfers, so that presently approximately 24% of on-course golfers in Oregon are women.

First Tee - Greater Portland
Girls at First Tee-Greater Portland (photo courtesy First Tee-Greater Portland)

An admittedly incomplete gathering of information from other sources on female golfers in Oregon provides a mixed bag. First Tee – Portland reported a decrease in girls participating in First Tee – Portland programs, from 545 in 2019 to 235 in 2023 (this was very troubling to me as by all reports First Tee – Portland has a great program; I was not able to get from First Tee if the percentage of girls participating dropped or if the drop in numbers for girls was reflective of a drop in number of total participants). Over the past 4 years, Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA), which oversees high school golf competition in Oregon, has seen an 8.6% growth in the number of high school girls on golf teams in the state (from 970 in 2018 – 2019 to 1054 in 2022 – 2023), but the relative number of girls compared to all high school golfers has stayed pretty much the same at 37% and the amount of increase in the number of boys on teams was greater during that period at 22% (from 1464 in 2018 – 2019 to 1790 in 2022 – 2023). The Oregon Golf Association reports that the percentage of its membership that are female has stayed very steady over the past several years at about 19%. The Oregon Chapter of the PGA (or OPGA) reported that the percentage of women OPGA professionals in Oregon went from 3% (or 13 total) in 2015 to 4% (or 19 total) in 2023 (so, pretty small). Right now, there appears to be only one head pro in all of Oregon who is a woman: Kennedy Swann Bodiford at Tokatee. (I note that Melinda Murry Drummond is the head of instruction at Top Golf in Hillsboro.) There is a smattering of women in assistant pro or teaching positions at courses and clubs, but as the OPGA numbers show, it is very few.

Oregon Courses
Juniper Golf Course

On the other hand, certain courses in Oregon have reported a material growth in participation by girls and women in golf. Ocean Dunes Golf Course in Florence reported that its women’s club has grown 75% over the past four years (OK, the total now is about 35, but the rate of growth in a small town is impressive). Juniper Golf Course in Redmond has seen the number of it’s regular women’s players increase by about 30% over the past 5 to 7 years (although the number of girls at its pee-wee camp has stayed about the same). Stone Ridge Golf Club in Southern Oregon has seen the percentage of women playing at its course increase from 0 to 20% in the past four years. The percentage of girls participating in junior clinics at Stone Ridge has also grown over the past four years.

Red Tail golf
RedTail Golf Course

RedTail Golf Center, in the Portland metro area, probably has the largest instruction program in the state (measured by number of instructors, number of classes, and/or number of participants). It has seen the number of participants in its Intro to Golf for Women increase by about 55% from 2019 to this year. The number of girls participating in RedTail’s junior camps increased by 30% over the past 5 years. And the number of women in RedTail’s three women’s clubs (two 9-hole clubs and one 18-hole club) have significantly increased, although the vast majority of increase has come from one 9-hole club that is afforded a shotgun start for playing. The number of its members in its women’s 18-hole club has stayed relatively constant.

OK, What is Going On

Barbra Trammell

In an interview with Pacific Northwest PGA reflecting on her successful career as OGA CEO, Barb Trammell commented on the status of the women’s game at the time of her 2022 retirement:
Although the women’s game has certainly grown and expanded its reach over the years, we still have work to do with making women feel welcome at golf courses and with participating in organized events. It’s not enough just to create a dedicated women’s initiative and put it out into the community. The “build it and they will come” mentality does not work with women. We like to be invited. A personal phone call to proactively reach out with an invitation to join a group, a club or an event goes the extra mile to make someone feel included – and wanted! As far as getting more women (as well as other diverse demographics) into career positions in golf, there must be a concerted effort to provide opportunities specifically for those individuals. If you have an open position, think of ways to reach qualified candidates who are diverse and could bring a perspective to your staff that you currently do not have.

This quote is a great response to my question on the state of women golfers in Oregon. Initially, Oregon has done well in getting more girls and women to play golf. There appears to have been a significant increase in both the number of girl and women golfers in Oregon, and courses and programs in Oregon have developed a roadmap on how to succeed in getting more girls and women to play the game. Here are some examples:

  • Stone Ridge changed ownership in 2019. The new management took at least the following steps to welcome and encourage girls and women to play: improving the forward tees, improving the restrooms, having golf merchandise for women, offering reduced fees on certain days for women, and changing the café menu to include wine and healthier food options.
  • Juniper attributes its success to a philosophy of: making sure all women feel welcome when they are on property; treating women the same way they treat men (in a positive way); and immediately addressing all issues arising from the “archaic mentality some men retain that women should not be on the golf course.”
  • RedTail attributes it’s success to many things, starting with a sizable female staff – from folks in the pro shop, to assistants in the junior camps, to pros. RedTail also carries a large amount of women’s equipment and clothing (women can help women select clubs). RedTail hosts a variety of methods for how girls and women can have an initial golf experience – from small social events that include a bit of golf, to a few holes with a pro, to classes, to camps, to lessons, to multiple clubs (and that variety then forms stepping stones for girls and women to play better and get more involved).

A lot has been written about the question of how to attract more girl and women golfers. Although a material difference is made between how to attract girls or women (the former focusing on family support, social interaction (including social media), and success recognition), the most common tip that I saw was to make the potential female golfer feel welcome and invited: get rid of the “this place is for men” vibe and spend a bit more time inviting and then welcoming the newcomer. Ms. Trammell is right, and the courses in Oregon that I mention above are providing such a welcoming atmosphere and succeeding in attracting more girls and women to play.

Ms. Trammell’s quote makes a marked distinction between getting more girls and women to play and getting more women into the profession. On the latter point, Oregon does not seem to be improving. This is shown in several different ways: the lack of an increase in female members of OPGA, the lack of an increase in female members of OGA, the relatively flat percentage of girl high school golfers from OSAA (although a good increase in numbers), and even RedTail’s experience of showing a marked increase in its 9-hole (more socially-oriented) clubs, but not its 18-hole women’s club. Although there does seem to be an increase in women business managers of golf clubs (which is great), there remains a very low number of women golf program managers, pros, and teachers.

So What; Now What

Ashley Bogaerts, RedTail Golf Center

Should we care about the lack of professional women golfers in Oregon? Initially, if golf courses want to increase the number of its customers by increasing the number of girl and woman golfers (a sizable demographic), it would be beneficial to have women in positions of authority having direct interaction with customers. For example, Ashley Bogaerts, the new pro at RedTail, reported that her golf instruction classes became full with girls and women as soon as her name went out as a new instructor. Kennedy Swann Bodiford, the head pro at Tokatee, has found that women come to her from far away because the woman golfer wants a woman teacher and they can’t find one in their area.

If more women golf professionals would improve the golf business in Oregon, how could that be done? Anyone who has worked on hiring in a male-dominated field knows that hiring and retaining women is much more successful when there are women in places of authority and support (I am not saying it can’t be done, I am just saying that chances for success materially increase; note now I am suggesting that there are no less than two good business reasons to increase the number of women golf professionals in Oregon). As the number of girl and women golfers increase, how does Oregon bridge the gap and attract more women golf professionals? I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with three extraordinary women golfers now in Oregon about their experience in becoming successful golf professionals.

  • Ashely Bogaerts was one of the highest rated high school golfers in Arizona and is now a teaching pro at RedTail. She was introduced to golf as a child when her father, an avid golfer, suggested that she and her mother take group lessons together. Ashley caught the bug and was playing in tournaments by the time she was 9. She grew as a golfer with help from the local First Tee, the Bill Dickey Scholarship Association, and the LPGA/USGA Girls’ Golf of Phoenix Future Stars program (which helped Ashley to be better on the course and prepared her for college). Ashley was awarded a golf scholarship to Texas Southern but after one year on its golf team, she found herself burnt out and took a pause from golf. Later, at the urging of her parents, she earned her LPGA Class A certification, which she used to get jobs as a golf professional, winding up instructing at RedTail. Ashley says that at all points in her golfing experience she felt she had the support and resources to do what she wanted in golf. Now as an instructor, she feels she can share the game that she loves with many.

    Kennedy Swann Bodiford at Tokatee Golf Course
  • In 2021, Kennedy Swann Bodiford was on the team at Ole Miss that won the NCAA Golf title and then became the first woman to win the Oregon Open. She is now the only woman head pro in Oregon at Tokatee Golf Club. She started to play softball, but when her coach pushed her away from the game, she started playing golf with her dad. Before high school, she had two swing coaches who took her to the next level, and she was ready to be competitive in a strong high school district (and she was, ranked as the third best high school woman golfer in Texas). She continued to use a swing coach during high school. She started at Clemson and then transferred to Ole Miss. Her coach at Ole Miss helped her with the mental game and course management, but she points to the mentorship of older women players in helping her make the bridge to becoming a professional.
  • Shelly Liddick has been an LPGA member since 1993 and has had a very successful career as a player and college coach (being named LPGA National Coach of the Year in both 2012-2013 and 2013-2014). She is now a pro at Rock Creek Country Club in the Portland metro area (where she offers lessons and clinics to the public). She was a college golfer when several people encouraged her to take the next steps to the mini-tours. During recovery for an injured shoulder, with some help from her former coach, she began teaching and coaching (and still competed). She never thought of doing anything outside of the golf business, but after experiencing a variety of positions in golf, she sees a variety of opportunities for women wanting to be in the golf business.

    Shelly Liddick winning Nebraska Women’s Amateur Golf Association’s 2021 Golfer of the Year

What I took away from these three accomplished women at various stages of their careers is that there are different paths to becoming a golf professional and you don’t have to be a playing pro to be in a position of authority. Each of these women have inherent drive, desire, and talent. All received encouragement, mentoring, and/or support at several points along their journeys, whether it was from individuals or organizations. Some of the organizations are listed above, but they also include, to name a few: LPGA Teaching Education Program, PGA Works, and the PGA PGM Associate Program.

To expand on Ms. Trammell’s quote, to get more women in the golf profession, there should be a concerted effort to provide opportunities and support. At all points in the growth of a girl/woman golfer, provide moral support and point to programs that could provide financial and training support (and note that being a leader in the golf industry does not just mean being a playing pro). And if you manage a golf facility, recognize the economic benefit of having women in visible positions. As Ms. Trammell stated, there needs to be a concerted effort by the golf industry (and I would suggest players as well) to improve on the present situation.

I want to thank all the people who were gracious enough to provide me with their valuable time as I was doing research for this article: Vincent Johnson at Portland Parks, Bob Rannow at Ocean Dunes Golf Links, Wes Gribas at RedTail, Rob Malone at Juniper Golf Course, Greg Loper at OGA, and Dominic Marconi at OPGA. And a very big thanks to Ashley Bogaerts, Kennedy Swann Bodiford, and Shelly Liddick; I was so honored to talk with each of them.

FlingGolf in Oregon

I was doing updates on the posts for the various golf courses in Oregon when I came across a reference to FlingGolf (yes, one word). Not knowing anything about it, I Googled the phrase and watched a video of a frustrated golfer meeting with a very happy person who had a FlingStick and used it to toss a golf ball down a golf  fairway. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfNm6lJrOEQ

I was intrigued, not for me to abandon what I have tried to do for 50 years, but as a way to increase business on a golf course. So, I did some research.

Years ago, Alex Van Alen and his brothers and friends played golf with lacrosse sticks at his family farm in Pennsylvania. (Does this remind you of the pioneer golfers in Gearhart over 130 years ago?) But Mr. Van Alen wanted to increase the ball flight using a lacrosse motion. Finding a jai alia basket on the web, he came up with the FlingStick and then formed the company New Swarm Sports LLC to manufacture the FlingStick and promote the sport of FlingGolf. www.flinggolf.com

The FlingStick

The FlingStick is made up of a grip and shaft (both like a golf club) and a head composed of a channel and a striker pad. It’s about the length of my 3 wood, and the whole thing weighs less than a pound. You place a golf ball in the channel, take the stick over your shoulder and bring it forward quickly in an arching motion (like jai alai or lacrosse), and (most importantly) follow through. The ball releases from the channel and heads down the fairway. [This is the “standard stroke” – more on this later.] You can generate more power and distance by running while bringing the stick forward provided that the ball is released before you get to the tees or the “ball spot.” The advice on the FlingGolf web site about a stroke is: “Don’t overthink it. You should swing as hard as you can.”

The FlingStick and FlingGolf were made public in 2014, and FlingSticks were displayed at the PGA Merchandise Show in 2015. There has been a slow but progression of sales of FlingSticks and use of FlingSticks on golf courses, with a significant bump occurring in 2021 after Mr. Van Alen and his business partner John Pruellage made a pitch about FlingGolf on the TV show “Shark Tank.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lml3ykKhJko&t=33s

New Swarm states that FlingGolf has been played at over 1,600 courses in 31 different counties. However, there is no tracking of how many people have played the sport or how many rounds there have been. New Swarm, a private company, has not published year-over-year sales records. In a 2018 interview, Mr. Van Alen stated that the majority of FlingGolf was being played on the east coast, following areas that have enthusiasm for lacrosse.

Recently, efforts to promote the sport have focused on FlingGolf tournaments through the World League FlingGolf. It had its first championship in 2021, and has a 5-stop nationwide tour scheduled for 2023. At least a portion of the tour will be televised on one of the ESPN networks.

There are official rules. Unlike the R&A and USGA Rules of Golf, which go to over 200 pages (OK, with illustrations), there are only five pages of FlingGolf rules. See https://flinggolf.com/pages/rules  The rules evidence the present simplicity of the sport. On the tee, you may take as many steps as you want (to generate additional power) before “hurling the ball” as long as the ball is launched before the tee marker. On the fairway (or in a hazard), there is a box you play from: formed by where the ball lies (this is the “ball spot”), two FlingSticks to either side of the ball spot, and five steps back from the ball spot (in a direction away from the hole). The shot is essentially the same: you pick up the ball (you are always allowed to clean the ball), put it in the channel of the FlingStick, and launch the ball before the ball spot. The main difference from the tee shot is that you can only take five steps back from the ball spot.

If you are in a bunker, hazard, or OB, you take one penalty stroke and go to the point of entry (or, if in a trap, directly back from the hole), then form the box you play generally from and make a stroke. But you can also play from the trap (without moving the ball first) or from a hazard (where you can pick up the ball before hurling it) without penalty. So you can go on into the water and pick up and play the ball (without penalty).

You use the FlingStick to putt. You place a “putting slug” in the channel (to give the very light club some weight) and then putt in the normal fashion. Or you can putt by hitting the edge of the front of the channel either swinging between your legs or in a normal putting stroke.

I referenced the “present simplicity of the game” and quoted “standard stroke” before because the game is at its nascent stages. The methods of how to move the ball forward with a FlingStick are still being developed. Flop shots and bump and runs are shown on the FlingGolf website. But I understand that some folks are flinging sideways or backwards (facing away from the hole). I am sure as more folks try using a FlingStick for longer periods, all sorts of new motions to propel a golf ball will be discovered.

So how much is FlingGolf played in Oregon? Your own experience is probably an indication. Although the FlingGolf website shows that FlingGolf has been played at least once on the vast majority of Oregon courses (referred to as “Liberated” courses), I had never seen a FlingStick before I went searching for one. The FlingGolf website identifies five courses where you could rent a FlingStick: Chinook Winds, Cross Creek, Creekside, Santiam, and Buffalo Peak. But conversations with the pro shops at those courses revealed a decided lack of course involvement or promotion of FlingGolf. Chinook Winds does have FlingSticks, but they have never rented them (and in two and one-half years, the pro shop has only seen one pair of FlingGolfers, who brought their own sticks). Neither Cross Creek or Creekside know if they have any sticks and the pro shops have never seen any FlingGolf players.

Buffalo Peak does have FlingSticks to rent, has rented them, and has a regular (small and not increasing) customer base of local college students who play FlingGolf. (Curious that promoting to local colleges may be the way to go, I checked with similarly situated courses near colleges or universities – Trysting Tree, Emerald Valley, and Laurelwood – and none of them have seen FlingGolf players or have FlingSticks to rent.)

Santiam has a few FlingSticks to rent. They were big on the potential of the sport initially, but did not see much response. Still, Jake Dalke in the pro shop became fairly proficient with the FlingStick and will take the time to demonstrate how to hurl the ball.

So one sunny early Spring day, I went to Santiam to try out FlingGolf.

The FlingStick is surprisingly light, but not as flexible as I thought. (I am sure someone is figuring out how to make a stick with  very flexible alloy so you could really launch a ball,) After watching Jake take a few hurls on the range, I tried it, and quickly was able to hurl the ball 100 to 125 yards. And almost all the shots went straight. I emptied a small bucket, finding the advice on the website and from Jake to be correct: don’t think about your form except to follow through and aim about 50 yards above your target.  I was surprised that the ball released from the channel of the FlingStick without having to do anything other than complete the follow-through.

I tried a few lob shots around the practice green (that was pretty shaky) and a few putts with the weight slug (two golf balls in a pouch; that was even more shaky). The pro shop wanted to make sure I did not play with regular golfers because it thought I might slow the group down. So I went to the first tee by myself and “teed off” with the FlingStick from the forward tees.

Here is what I found, some of it very surprising:

  • You only have one very light club, which makes for a very nice and easy walk.
  • Rough is not an issue. You lift the ball out of the rough, load the ball in the channel, and take a shot.
  • You are allowed to clean the ball on every shot (a big deal in the Spring in Oregon), just make sure you bring a towel.
  • Be mindful of how slippery the ground is – in an effort to create force, you may do the splits after you release the ball if the ground is wet.
  • Approach shots are tricky and probably take time to master. After trying a few underhand shots, I stuck with a bump and run, using an overhand abbreviated arc, and aiming short of the green (the motion still caused a lot of ball speed).
  • FlingGolf would be good in the cold as your wrists and forearms would not hurt after a missed shot.
  • Some golf balls are too big for the channel. Make sure the ball is able to move freely in the channel before taking a shot (most of the balls I use I have found – so some may be deformed).
  • Distance is a bigger issue than trajectory. Almost all my shots went straight.
  • Putting is tricky. For me, the FlingStick was too long (again, about a 3 wood) and too light (even with the putting slug) to putt with. It felt like I was putting with a headcover on.
  • Even though the walk on the course was easy, I found that flinging the ball took more overall physical effort than a normal golf shot (I am not saying that’s bad). After nine holes, my right forearm and right hip felt more strain (but not that much more) than I normally feel (I am right handed).

(For the record, I triple-bogied or more most holes, but had two bogies, which I thought was pretty good for the first time.)

I was told by two pros that one of the reasons why they thought FlingGolf would not catch on was because of the intimidation factor (big course with big hitting regular golf players who would look down at a FlingGolfer). After playing nine holes, I disagree. I quickly caught up to the foursome of traditional golfers in front of me (it’s an easy walk; there is not much of a practice swing; and the shots, although short, go straight). I was then joined by a threesome of traditional golfers behind me: two male bogey golfers and a female bogey golfer. I explained to them what I was doing, that it was my first time trying it, and that I was playing from the forward tees. They were intrigued, I parked my ego, and the four of us had a great time (easily keeping up with the group in front of us)!

Santiam Golf Club

And I think that’s where the success of FlingGolf might lie: a way for non-golfers to have easy access to a sport that is played on a golf course with friends or parents.  FlingGolf is extremely accessible. If you can’t find a FlingStick to rent, a FlingStick costs less than a couple of knock-off clubs (New Swarm has basic new FlingSticks for $124 and kids FlingSticks for $89). It is a very simple game to learn, takes only a few hurls to get decent yardage, and you go to your normal golf course.  Unlike foot or disc golf, you play the normal golf holes. Golfers and non-golfers can play a golf course, be challenged, and have a great time.

But I won’t be converting. I like the old game that I have played for so many years. But if I had a friend who didn’t play golf that I wanted to spend some time with, I would suggest he/she try FlingGolf and that we walk together. Because that is one of the reasons why I play: not to score well or hit a great shot (although those are nice), but to be outside in attractive places with people I enjoy. And in the one round that I had with the FlingStick, I discovered that golfers and flinggolfers can have a great time on the course together.

Thanks to the staff at Santiam Golf Club for taking the time to help me try FlingGolf.

The New Portland Golf Concession

In November 2022, a significant event quietly occurred in Oregon’s golfing world. The event effects the second most played complex of courses in the State. Effective November 1, 2022, KemperSports Management, LLC (“Kemper”), became the operations manager for five of Portland’s municipal golf courses (that’s all courses except RedTail). Other than the Bandon complex of courses, the collective operations of those five Portland municipal courses make up the largest golf course operation in Oregon.

Heron Lakes
Heron Lakes (Great Blue)

The contract between the City of Portland (the “City”) and Kemper (the “Contract”) provides for an initial term of five years with the City having the right to renew for five additional years. Kemper is paid by the City $32,000 a month (or $384,000 annually) plus an incentive fee of 15 percent of any net operating income over $5,800,000 a year (Kemper estimates this amount will be about $244,000 over the first five years). Both amounts are subject to annual adjustments. The City also pays Kemper certain fees and pays all operating expenses. In return, Kemper manages all non-maintenance operations at the courses, including food and beverage, lessons, and merchandizing. Kemper is to develop and implement a reservation platform and marketing plan, and “a consistent brand for the courses consolidated for better recognition.” Kemper is to also provide $200,000 for “start-up costs or priority facility improvements.”

So how did this happen, and will it be good for golf in Portland?

Background

The City of Portland is fortunate to have five quality 18-hole municipal golf courses: Eastmoreland (a Chandler Egan design, seventh oldest course in Oregon and two-time host of the USGA Amateur Public Links Championship), Rose City (clubhouse is on the National Register of Historic Places), Heron Lakes (both Blue and Greenback courses, home of the former NW Open and the 2000 USGA Amateur Public Links Championship), and RedTail. The City also has Colwood, a golf practice complex that includes a 3-par course.

Although historically profitable, before COVID, rounds played at the courses had been dropping (46% decrease between 1994 and 2019), and expenses increased faster than green fees. The Golf Fund, which is an operating reserve funded by green fees and concessioners’ payments, went from a balance of $1.5M in 2013 to $300K in 2017. In 2018, the City provided an emergency advance of $800,000 to support the courses.

In 2019, the management of the City’s municipal golf courses was a hodge-podge of entities and types of contracts: Kemper operated Herron Lakes (since the early 2000s) and Colwood (since the late 2010s) under management contracts (essentially a set fee for management, where the City pays all operating expenses and receives all income); Hank Childs Golf Shop, Inc., operated Rose City (since the mid-1990s) under a concession agreement (with the City receiving a portion of net revenue but not incurring non-maintenance expenses); Cumpston Brothers, Inc, operated Eastmoreland (since the mid-1970s) also under a concession agreement; and RedTail Golf, LLC,  operated RedTail under a lease agreement.

Heron Lakes
Heron Lakes (Greenback)

In May 2019, the Portland City Auditor issued a report projecting further decreases in play and revenue, stating a concern over the differing types of operation and management contracts among the courses and about the lack of oversight and enforcement of those contracts. Portland Parks and Recreation (“PP&R”), the bureau under which the courses are managed and operated, also issued a report stating that there was a $43 million backlog in maintenance and the courses had an annual maintenance cost of $1.9 million.  In response to the City Auditor’s report, the operating contract at Heron was extended to October 2022, so that the operating contracts at Heron, Eastmoreland, Rose City, and Colwood (collectively, the “Courses”) would all expire at the same time. [The agreement at RedTail does not expire until 2042 and was never part of the courses being considered for a new management contract.]

In early 2021, the City engaged GGA Partners to review the operations at all the courses and make recommendations as to what would be best for the City and its golfing public going forward. GGA Partners issued its report in October 2021. Among its findings:

  • The status quo was not financially sustainable
  • Significant improvements of financial performance were possible
  • Operations must focus on driving high-margin golf related revenues
  • All facilities should be grouped to a single master agreement with a single operator
  • All aspects of the visitor experience had to be improved
    In the report, GGA recommended, among other things:
  • Consolidate all courses under a single contract to promote consistency and provide economies of scale
  • Provide dynamic pricing
  • Centralize booking
  • Provide for system-wide marketing
  • Develop a standard approach to capital allocations
    In March of 2022, after a review of the GGA report, Portland City Council authorized a competitive bidding process to manage and operate the Courses “in the most financially sustainable manner.” Proposals were to have terms to “promote greater diversity with staff and customers and enhance access to the game.” Bids could be for one or all of the Courses. [It should be noted that the Childs and Cumpston folks have well-deserved and deeply devoted followings. In some quarters it may have been considered sacrilegious to even consider not renewing their contracts.]

    Colwood Clubhouse

The City’s RFP went out in the early summer of 2022, calling for the management model (the manager/operator would be paid a fee but the City would pay all expenses and receive all revenues). The City received bids from Kemper, Troon Golf, CourseCo., Regency Golf Club Management, Touchstone Golf, and a new local entity Golf PDX, LLC.  All bids were to manage all facilities. Bids and bidders were then reviewed for, among other things, corporate responsibility, experience, vision, financial impact, and proposed fees. After review by an evaluation committee, the Chief Procurement Officer recommended that Kemper be awarded the bid.

[I am not second guessing if Kemper should have been awarded the concession. Some bids had lower management fees, and certain bidders had a deeper relationship with the Courses, but those were not the only factors being weighed and I was not in the room. It is possible that the long-term relationship the City had with Kemper provided the City had a better idea of what Kemper was capable of (and Kemper had a better idea of what the City wanted), and it was probably easier for Kemper to expand its existing operations to two additional courses. The City followed its required bidding process, and the evaluation summaries are available to the public.]

On October 26, 2022, the City Council approved the award to Kemper by a 3 to 2 vote. Commissioners Hardesty and Ryan objected to the motion to approve the contract on the grounds that they did not understand why the City was not retaining its existing operating structures (Commissioner Hardesty also raised concern about agreeing to such a large contract pertaining to a lot of open space when issues around houselessness had not been resolved).

How the Contract Works

Under the Contract, in January of each year, Kemper is required to provide the City with a business plan for operations at the Courses for the next fiscal year (July through June). The business plan is to include an operating budget, capital expenditure budget (which includes how Kemper plans to use its $200,000 contribution), operating plan, marketing plan, and diversity and inclusion plan. If the City approves the business plan, it will begin advancing to Kemper the expenses set forth in the approved budget on a monthly basis (there are provisions for adjustments to the amount of expenditures during the fiscal year). [Note: green fees have to be set in accordance with guidelines set by the City.]

Also under the Contract, Kemper is to coordinate and promote First Tee programs and coordinate and support youth golf programs and other partner organizations identified by the City. If required by the City’s Director of Golf, Kemper is to continue the EAGLE Caddie program.

What’s Next?

I was fortunate to communicate with the parties to, and some of the folks effected by, the Contract to see what they thought and if there was agreement about what should happen going forward.

Randy Morrison, Regional General Manager KemperSports, stated that Kemper presently plans on retaining its current Portland management team (even though it is taking on two additional courses), except that Kemper may hire someone to assist in marketing/promoting golf to historically underrepresented communities as well as formulating internal initiatives to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in staffing. Kemper also plans on retaining existing employees at Rose City and Eastmoreland, including Henry Childs, to provide continuity and perspective. Mr. Morrison also stated that Kemper will reach out to work with local organizations that promote golf, such as First Tee and Leisure Hour, to see how existing programing could be improved when all the Courses are involved. [And I have already seen surveys sent out by Kemper to the folks who have played at Eastmoreland and Rose City (which is great).]

Rose City golf Portland
Rose City Historic Club House

Mr. Morrison stated that Kemper’s initial priorities are to unify the systems among the Courses, particularly point of sale and reservation systems, and to develop systems and benchmarks to be able to better measure outcomes at the Courses. Also on the priority list is improving ascetics at each of the clubhouses, particularly in the food and beverage areas (this is what the $200,000 contribution from Kemper will probably be used for).

I asked Mr. Morrison what he was excited about in adding two courses to Kemper’s Portland operations. He responded, “Unifying all the facilities from both the customer and staff perspective. Getting the staff more involved and finding out more from the customers, and seeing new ideas brought in.”

On what Kemper would like to accomplish within the next five years, he said “Financial stability [for the Courses], improved outreach, improved awareness of what the facilities have to offer, developing benchmarks, and having the ability to determine how things have improved from those benchmarks.”

Vincent Johnson, Director of Golf for Portland Parks & Recreation, stated that he expects Kemper to partner with organizations that work to expand and/or diversify golf in programming and the development of new opportunities. Director Johnson believes that by managing all the Courses, Kemper will create greater operational efficiencies and make implementation of system-wide strategies possible. Over the next five years, he wants to see: the lowering of barriers to golf to increase diversity in golfers and among golf staff; an expansion of inclusive programming; and improvement of customer experience, both online and at the courses. Director Johnson concluded, “These efforts will better connect our public with the great offerings at our golf courses and reinforce our facilities as inclusive, welcoming places that play a meaningful role in the lives of our vibrant communities. Successes in those key areas will also convert into greater revenues for the Golf Program, growing the fund balance for deferred maintenance and future projects.”

Alex Chitsazan, chair of Portland’s Golf Advisory Committee (“GAC”), said that he is looking forward to having the Courses under a single operator and system and believes that should improve operations and reduce expenses. He is also excited in seeing how Kemper can grow and diversify the game, noting the success that Kemper had at Colwood.  And he is happy that Kemper is trying to maintain the community feel of the courses, initially through the retention of employees.

In speaking with representatives of the men’s clubs (I did reach out to women’s clubs, but no one responded), they are hoping that Kemper and the City provide a better experience for the golf visitor, both in terms of course conditions (which the City will continue to control) but also in the entire experience before the first tee, from reservations to parking, practice facilities, and being in the clubhouse.

Will the Agreement be good for Golf in Portland?

The short answer is maybe (which is better than hopefully).

Eastmoreland
Eastmoreland Golf Course

On the surface, Kemper and the Contract provide a good foundation for success. Kemper is a nationally recognized expert in golf management (including management of municipal golf courses) and has extensive resources and experience. Kemper has an existing team in Portland that has been working with the City for a long time. And Kemper has had some success in Portland: for example, in 2022, Kemper, as the operator at Colwood, received the Player Development Award given by the National Golf Course Owners Association in recognition of a course’s player development programs. The GAC is also happy with how Kemper has been running Heron and Colwood, particularly how Kemper has maintained the sense of a golf community. [Note that the Chair of Heron Lakes Men’s Club did object to the concession being awarded to Kemper on the basis that Kemper had not materially improved operations at Heron.]

By having the power of approval over Kemper’s proposed business plans, the City is able to coordinate with Kemper on maintenance and capital improvements at the Courses. The City should also be able to maintain its priorities, in particular improving diversity and access (along with profitability), while Kemper seeks to improve profitability (along with diversity and access). The Contract’s specific reference to maintaining relationships with organizations that are looking to diversify and expand who uses the courses is also reassuring.

Finally, the comments that I received from Kemper, the City, GAC, and the men’s clubs support the conclusion that there is a significant amount of agreement as to what should happen next, and what the goals over the next five years should be (although there may be a difference in priorities).

While this is all good, I have some concerns. In speaking with groups that support broadening access to golf and the men’s clubs for Eastmoreland and Rose City, they were not consulted as part of the selection process. The GAC was kept up to date on the selection process, but the committee was not included as part of the evaluation of RFP responses (although some individuals were on the evaluation committee). (These groups did contribute to GGA’s investigation and the GAC did provide comments to the City as part of the review of the GGA report.)

I am concerned that going forward the groups that support expanding and diversifying golf may not have opportunities to significantly contribute to Kemper’s proposed operations (other than what Kemper may do in reaching out to these groups). In particular, it does not appear that the GAC will be given the opportunity to review and comment on Kemper’s annual proposed business plan (which appears to be within the GAC’s duties under City Code 3.86.030), and that the reviews will only be done within the City (although GAC, through subcommittees, does provide the City and Kemper monthly input on operations). I would think that including in the review process (or at least getting annual comments from) folks and organizations that frequently use the Courses and are working to achieve the City’s objectives would be a good thing.

Eagle Caddy program
EAGLE Caddies at Rose City GC. Photo curtesy of Portland Parks & Recreation

PP&R has a first-rate team supporting its golf courses. Kemper has and can be a valuable addition to successful management of those courses. The Contract requires communication and a balance between the City and Kemper. All of this points towards probable future success. Although the Contract requires coordination and support between Kemper and those organizations promoting youth programs and programs identified by the City (presumably to increase diversity of golfers), the extent of such coordination and support is not spelled out and has yet to be seen. Supporting and frequently listening to those organizations that share the objectives of the City (expanding the game, diversifying the game, and financial stability) and who actually play the Courses, would be important in the annual planning process.

Portland’s municipal courses are a great asset to its citizens. Right now, Portland needs as many positive assets as possible. I am hoping that five years from now, the City will be able to point to the Courses and its management as an example of what makes Portland great.

Multnomah Golf Club

On June 13, 1925, it was cooler than usual for Portland: a high of 65 with occasional showers. The big local story that day was the battleship USS Oregon docking next to the Burnside Bridge. On the same day, starting with a flag raising at 1pm, in the area that would become known as Raleigh Hills, there was a ceremony to open a new golf course. The slate of multiple speakers started with John A. Lang, president of the new golf club. Henry A. Sargent, then president of the Multnomah Amateur Athletic Club (now known as the Multnomah Athletic Club or MAC), had the honor of the first drive. Play on the new course was then commenced by an exhibition foursome of the best local golfers of the day: Rudie Wilhelm, Mel Smith, Dr. O.F. Willing, and John Junor. When it opened, the course was described by a visiting pro as the “show place of Pacific coast golf courses,” and “exquisitely bucolic” having an “innate woodland lure.” The new course was the Multnomah Golf Club (“MGC”).

The development of golf courses seems to go in cycles, the most recent of which was in the 1990s (think Pumpkin Ridge, The Reserve, Langdon Farms, and Quail Valley all built in that decade, all in the Portland Metro area). Inevitably, this leads to oversupply and a course or two having to close down. (I certainly do not wish that on any of the courses just listed.)

The 1920s was one such era. At the time MGC was proposed in 1924, there were about 260,000 people in Portland and several existing courses in or near the city: Waverley Country Club, Portland Golf Club, Eastmoreland Golf Course, Tualatin Country Club, Rose City Golf Club (9 holes at the time), and Glendoveer East Golf Course. In the planning stages or under construction in 1924 were Columbia-Edgewater Country Club, Alderwood Country Club, West Hills Golf Course (9 holes), Ruby Golf Course, Lake Oswego Country Club (now Oswego Lake Country Club), and Riverside Country Club. I wanted to take a look at the history of one of the courses built at the time that no longer existed. I randomly chose MGC, not knowing anything about it (actually thinking it was owned by Multnomah County).

The builder of the course was not the County, but the MAC, a leading athletic and social club of the day. With so many existing courses and courses being built, why was another needed? The MAC wanted its position and popularity to continue: “That August [of 1923], threatened with the erosion of its members to private golf clubs, MAAC began searching for its own golf course site.” McIvor, Kristyn, et al. Legacy of the Twenty-Six: A Celebration of the First 100 Years of the Multnomah Athletic Club. Multnomah Athletic Club (1991), p. 68. The MAC found a farm, the Charles Bacon Homestead, which at the time may have been part of the massive land holdings of Ladd and Reed Farm Company. The property was about 225 acres just off of Canyon Road, about 4.8 miles from downtown and the MAC’s headquarters. The proposed course was said to be closer to downtown than any other course existing or being built at the time other than the West Hills Golf Course (a 9-hole public course located where the Oregon Zoo is now). The property was described in The Oregonian as a “beautiful rolling tract, without hills or steep pitches,” with most of the acreage in pasture and the rest with tall fir trees.

The course. The 4th hole is at 2 o’clock. Photo courtesy Oregon Historical Society.

The MAC originally looked at Willie Locke and Arthur Vernon Macan as possible designers. Mr. Macan was then one of the most prolific course designers in the Northwest (particularly in Washington) and was designing Alderwood at the time. The club, however, went with Mr. Locke who had designed several courses in the San Francisco Bay area. After Mr. Locke was hired by the MAC, he was quoted in The Oregonian as follows:

“The Multnomah site is the best I have seen in this section, and there are several natural spots on it which were intended for no other purpose than golf holes. No architect could even attempt to reproduce some of the natural advantages of the land.”

In discussing his design for the course, Mr. Locke stated that holes should require “a drive and a brassie shot to get home,” that no traps were necessary on fairways, that fairways should be narrow and greens should be “well trapped,” and that a course should never have a boundary fence on the right side of a fairway because ninety percent of golfers slice.

The golf club became a separate organization from the MAC, although initially you had to be a member of the MAC to be a member of the golf club. Membership was initially capped at 500 members (fifty memberships were reserved for women) with an initial initiation fee of $300 (or $275 in cash). When membership became open in early 1924, it quickly filled to its limit. The initial offering was so successful that the initiation fee was increased to $400, and the MAC considered increasing the membership limits and the number of holes to 27 or 36 (it did not).

By May 1924, the course routing was agreed to and Albert Erickson was hired as contractor. Boyd Bustard, an assistant pro at Waverley, was hired as the pro, and A.B. McAlpin, who had served as the president of the MAC, was hired as manager.

4th hole. Photo courtesy Multnomah Athletic Club.

The course was difficult for its time. It opened at a narrow 6695 yards, par 71 for men and 78 for women. An initial description of the course was that the greens were “well trapped” and that several fairways “cut through heavy woods and large trees have been left standing on both sides of the fairway making a lane through which the player must keep the ball on a straight line for the flag.” The hardest hole was said to be the par-3 13th, which was 225 yards to a green “completely draped by deep traps and other hazards.”

The difficulty of the course was initially demonstrated by the exhibition foursome, none of whom was able to achieve par (Dr. Willing had a 72), and by the first members’ tournament where the lowest gross score was 88. In the club championship held in September 1925, the low score was 83. Noted The Oregonian about the member tournament: “Scores on the whole were bulky.” By 1927, the course was shortened to 6520 yards and became a par 72.

13th hole. Photo courtesy Multnomah Athletic Club.

Soon after it opened, the club became very active in the Oregon golfing community. The club fielded no less than two (regular and senior) men’s teams and a women’s team. The men’s team quickly started playing against teams in Portland and from Astoria to La Grande, with an occasional trip to Seattle/Tacoma. In addition to multiple annual members’ tournaments, the course started hosting state-wide events such as the 1928 (and again in 1931 and 1935) Oregon Women’s Golf Association Championship, the 1929 Oregon Golf Association Boys and Girls Tournament, and the 1931 Oregon Amateur (both men’s and women’s). The course also hosted sectional qualifying for the 1932 U.S. Open.

When the course opened, the club used the former farm house as a clubhouse, but provided an addition that served as the men’ locker room. In April 1926, plans began for a new clubhouse. Morris H. Whitehouse, who had designed Civic Stadium and the clubhouses at Waverley and Lake Oswego, was selected as architect, and John D. Larsen was hired as contractor. Ground breaking occurred on May 7, 1926, and the clubhouse had its grand opening on October 8. The clubhouse was a bit rambling with multiple levels and low walls. It had locker rooms for both the men and women (the direct women’s entrance was through the caddy house). A large lounge looked out to a patio, the putting green, and “the whole sweep of the course.” When it opened, it was said to have a “cheery and hospitable atmosphere.”  The new clubhouse quickly became a social center for the city, with dances, dinners, bridge tournaments, teas, reunions, business meetings, and weddings.

Some of the club members were notable golfers: Ann Chapman, 1932 Oregon Golf Association Girl’s Champion; Jean Plagemann, 1932 Oregon Women’s Golf Association Champion; and George Will, a star on the University of Oregon Golf team. Although not a member, Emery Zimmerman served as a caddy on the course and set the course record of 69 in 1928 when he was 17. He subsequently won the Pacific NW PGA Championships in 1946 and 1949, was the pro at Columbia-Edgewater and Riverside, the assistant pro at Alderwood, and was inducted into the Pacific NW PGA Golf Hall of Fame in 1984. His brother Al was the assistant pro at MGC and was also a very successful golfer, winning the Pacific NW Championship in 1940, 1941, and 1942, the Oregon Open in 1933 and 1942, and was the head pro at Alderwood when Emery came over. (When Al left MGC, Emery was hired as assistant pro there.)

15th hole. Photo courtesy Multnomah Athletic Club.

Probably the most famous golfing member of the club was Eddie Hogan, who at the age of 20 and while a member of the club, won the 1930 Pacific NW Amateur. Mr. Hogan subsequently won the 1955 and 1957 Pacific NW PGA Championships and was inducted into the Pacific NW PGA Hall of Fame in 1981. From 1939 to 1968, he served as the pro at Riverside Country Club, where he was a major supporter of junior golf. So much so that the most important tournament in the west for junior golf teams is named after him: the Hogan Cup.

In addition to the new clubhouse, the course continued to make improvements. In early October 1929, the Northwest’s most famous golfer and golf architect of the time, H. Chandler Egan, inspected the course and drew-up recommendations for improvements, mostly around rebuilding the greens and adjoining bunkers. He was retained by the club to supervise the work.

The beginning of the Great Depression in late 1929 did not seem to immediately effect the course or its operations. The improvements recommended by Mr. Egan were completed, the course continued to host championships and member events, and the club’s teams continued to compete. The president of the club, Percy W. Lewis, stated in April 1930: “The financial fairways and golf course fairways of the Multnomah Golf Club are in excellent condition.” In August of 1930, The Oregonian reported that the course was in fine condition, with the greenest fairways in Oregon; “[the course] with its cool verdure in the heat of the summer preserves its woodland air. The shrubbery looks as verdant as it did in springtime.”

By February 1932, however, Mr. Lewis reported that although the club operated at a small profit and there was no additional member assessment, it was only “by pairing other operating expenses, salaries and flexible expenses, [that] the management was able to close an otherwise disastrous year with a profit. The membership held up remarkably well considering the adverse circumstances.” The club started to conduct annual membership drives, offering discounted memberships for new members (where lower pricing was provided to those who would not use the club facilities full time). In 1933, the club treasurer, J.G. Henkle, reported that the club was “in sound financial footing.” By late 1934, the discounted rates were offered to existing club members to keep them from leaving. But that was not enough.

9th hole on left, 1st hole on right. Photo courtesy Multnomah Athletic Club.

In October 1935, a little more than ten years after it opened, the club announced that it was “consolidating with” Lake Oswego Country Club. Both organizations dissolved and Oswego Lake Country Club was formed, with members from both clubs using the Lake Oswego Country Club course and clubhouse. Mr. Bustard became the pro at OLCC, and Mr. Lewis served as interim president (with Frank C. Howell becoming the first president a few months later). The Oregonian reported that 125 members from the MGC became affiliated members at OLCC.

After the dissolution, the MGC clubhouse was initially leased to “Berg’s Chalet” who remodeled the venue into a lounge, dining room, and dance hall. In 1936, the clubhouse and surrounding acreage was sold to the Gabel Country Day School, who used grass from the 18th hole to build its athletic field. In 1957, the school merged with Catlin-Hillside School, initially becoming Portland Country Day (and subsequently Catlin Gable School). The clubhouse and surrounding acreage were then sold to Raleigh Hills School District in 1958. The clubhouse eventually served as a public library, but was torn down in 1978. In the area that was the clubhouse and surrounding grounds now sits the library, Raleigh Park Elementary School, and Raleigh Swim Center.

After the course closed, it was used for a variety of activities:  archery-golf matches (different type of bow and different arrows are used for different “shots”); equestrian events hosted by the Portland Hunt Club; and high school cross-country races. The course was eventually subdivided and sold as subdivisions in 1937 and 1938.

Two interesting (at least to me) side golf stories about MGC. In April 1930, the club was one of the first clubs in the Northwest to provide wooden tees. Before then, golfers would form wet sand mounds and place the ball on top of the mound to drive the ball. And in late 1927, wanting to show that Portland was an “all-weather” golf destination, the club scheduled a tournament for January 2, 1928. After several days of bad weather, the event was cancelled because of “the lack of availability of snowshoes.”

Several courses that I have played in the past few years (such as Bay Breeze, Kah-Nee-Ta, Broadmoor, and Olalla) have closed. Each course has a history and, if given time, should be explored. In researching MGC, I not only learn about the course, but more about Oswego Lake CC, the great players of the 1920s (especially Eddie Hogan), the history of wooden tees, and the history of Catlin-Gable School.

The short-lived MGC may not have had a lasting presence on the Oregon golf world, but may have had a long-lasting effect on Greater Portland.

WINTER RULES!

In the winter, many folks in Oregon put on thermal underwear, bad weather gear, and Oregon Mudders and venture out to the course. A brave group we are.

Recently, I was playing on a course on the Oregon Coast in such an outfit with a “friend” (you’ll understand the quotation marks later). I drove my ball, it went in the air (a rarity), landed on the fairway, rolled (another rarity), and ended up on a part of the fairway that was higher because the sod rose up when water, caused by recent heavy rains, lifted the ground. If I took my normal swing, my divot would cause the mud bubble to explode. I think, “OK, winter rules,” and moved my ball so it was just off the mud bubble no nearer the hole. The spot I put the ball was probably the spot it would be in if I had marked my reference point (off the mud bubble, in the fairway, no nearer the hole), and dropped the ball (from the knees) within a club length behind the reference point.

Mud bubbles

I was about to take my next shot when my “friend” says “You are about to get a two-stroke penalty for playing your ball in the wrong place.” I look at him on this cold, wet, and windy day and think “WTF?!?” Really, it’s the off season, the course is a bit of a mess, it’s raining, and the wind is blowing. So why does he care? Oh, yes, it’s the $5.00 bet and the guy is a lawyer.

I say “Hey, this bubble is an abnormal course condition. I get relief.”

The nimrod (lowercase slang, not the hunter) responds, “Is the ball in the water? Are you standing in water? If not, too bad.”

I respond, “But if I hit the ball, I’ll be covered in water and mud.”

Because he is such a nice and forgiving guy, the nimrod says, “Read your rules. Put your ball back and hit it.”

I pull out a fiver, give it to him, say “I concede,” and go on to play the remaining holes remarkably well because I don’t have to consider my “friendly” wager.

Wanting to be right, when I get home I dig into the USGA Rules of Golf (the “Rules”) to see who was right. Being an old hacker, the first thing I notice is that the phrases “Winter Rules” and “Preferred Lies” are nowhere to be found in the Rules. Those phrases only appear in the Model Local Rules (8E-3, captioned “Preferred Lies”), which may or may not be adopted, in part or entirety, by the course through it’s “Committee” (as defined in the Rules).

To the extent I was entitled to relief, it had to be either in Rule 16.1 allowing for relief from abnormal course conditions (I’ll refer to as “ACC”), in Rule 16.3 allowing for relief from an embedded ball, or in the applicable local rules.

My first reading of Rule 16.1 makes me feel optimistic. It provides that in the general area (remember- anyplace on the course except greens, traps, and penalty areas), I get one club relief from the nearest point of relief in the general area not in the ACC, no nearer the hole. (In a bunker, I get similar relief without penalty, provided I stay in the bunker; on the green I get to go to the nearest point of complete relief under Rule 14.2. No relief in penalty areas.) This is not as good as just whacking the ball to a spot that looks good (what I usually do), but it is still pretty good relief.

I also like how broadly Rule 16.1 applies. It applies to the general area, including the rough. And it applies not only if your ball is in or touching the ACC, but also if the ACC is interfering with your stance or swing (on the green it includes ACC in your line of play). Of course, you can’t torque your normal swing to qualify under the rule, or if your ball is otherwise unplayable (like there is a tree right behind you). Rule 16.1 does not overrule unplayability not caused by the ACC.

All I have to do is show that the mud bubble fits in the definition of “abnormal course condition.” In Rule 16 and in the definition section of the Rules, ACCs are listed as animal holes, ground under repair, immovable obstructions, and temporary water. Each term has its own definition. For my exploding mound of water and mud, I don’t care about an animal hole (no animal is involved) or an immovable obstruction (because an obstruction is defined as an artificial object).

Water That’s Temporary

Ground under repair (or “GUR”) is generally defined as holes made by the maintenance staff, materials (like cut grass, raked leaves, or cut limbs) piled for later removal, and “[a]ny part of the course the Committee defines to be ground under repair (whether by marking it or otherwise).” My mud bubble does not seem to fit into this definition, unless the Committee (who are these people?) has deemed it so.

What about temporary water? You would think that that would fit. I mean, if I had hit the ball and took any type of divot, I would be covered in muddy water. The definition of temporary water is:

Any temporary accumulation of water on the surface of the ground (such as puddles from rain or irrigation or an overflow from a body of water) that:

  • Is not in a penalty area
  • Can be seen before or after the player takes a stance (without pressing down excessively with his or her feet).

It is not enough for the ground to be merely wet, muddy or soft or for the water to be momentarily visible as the player steps on the ground; an accumulation of water must remain present either before or after the stance is taken. [Emphasis added.]

I could have walked over to my ball and stood right beside it to confirm it was my ball, and, without jumping up and down, see if I could have caused the bubble to explode or water to percolate to the top of the sod. But I did not, so it does not look like my situation fits within the ACC definition.  [Side note as it just snowed all over the state of Oregon: the definition of temporary water states that snow on the ground is either a loose impediment or temporary water, at the player’s option. How generous is that – just don’t go hurting the greens by walking on them in the snow.]

If my ball was embedded, I would get similar relief under Rule 16.3. But to be embedded, the ball would have to be in the general area, rest in its own pitch-mark caused by my last stroke, and part of the ball would have to be below the level of the ground.  Not my ball. It actually rolled so my drive did not cause a pitch-mark.

Hummm; Clean and Place?

I am therefore left with the local rules.

The Model Local Rule that directly pertains to ACC is Model Local Rule 8F. It opens with a discussion on how the Committee can provide clarity to (note I did not say expand) the definition of what an ACC is, mostly in what is covered by GUR and Immovable Obstruction. And Model Rule 8F-4 may provide me with some relief. Its stated purpose is: “When heavy rain has resulted in many areas of unusual damage to the course (such as deep ruts caused by vehicles or deep footprints caused by spectators), and it is not feasible to define them with stakes or lines, the Committee has the authority to declare such unusual damage to be ground under repair.” This seems pretty broad, and seemed to have fit my situation. The Model Rule states:

Ground under repair may include areas of unusual damage, including areas where spectators or other traffic have combined with wet conditions to alter the ground surface materially, but only when so declared by an authorized referee or member of the Committee.

The Rule seems a bit more restrictive than the purpose, but if I could find a friendly member of the Committee to declare all mud bubbles are GUR, I could get relief (and revenge in being right).

Notwithstanding Model Rule 8F and its focus on ACC, it is Model Rule 8E-3 that contains the reference to “Preferred Lies.” Here are, in part, comments to that Model Rule:

Purpose. When occasional local abnormal conditions might interfere with fair play, the affected parts of the course can be defined as ground under repair. But adverse conditions such as heavy snows, spring thaws, prolonged rains or extreme heat can sometimes damage the course or prevent use of heavy mowing equipment.

When such conditions are widespread on the course, the Committee can choose to adopt a Local Rule for “preferred lies” (also known as “winter rules”) to allow fair play or help protect the fairway. Such a Local Rule should be withdrawn as soon as conditions allow.

The use of this Local Rule outside the fairway in the general area is not recommended as it may result in a player receiving free relief from areas where a ball might otherwise be unplayable (such as in areas of bushes or trees).

And here is the Model Rule:

When a player’s ball lies in a part of the general area cut to fairway height or less [or identify a specific area such as ‘on the fairway of the 6th hole’], the player may take free relief once by placing the original ball or another ball in and playing it from this relief area:

  • Reference Point: Spot of the original ball.
  • Size of Relief Area Measured from Reference Point: [Specify size of relief area, such as one club-length, one scorecard length or 6 inches] from the reference point, but with these limits:
  • Limits on Location of Relief Area:
    • Must not be nearer the holethan the reference point, and
    • Must be in the general area.

In proceeding under this Local Rule, the player must choose a spot to place the ball and use the procedures for replacing a ball under Rules 14.2b(2) and 14.2e.

This Model Rule is what the Oregon Golf Association recommends that a course use – one-club length relief only in the fairway. But the rule suggested by the Oregon Chapter of the PGA (at least for its tournaments) provides for one club-length relief in the fairway and six-inch relief in the general area that is not the fairway.

The Committee decides what local rule to follow, when it applies, and how it is applied (and also where GUR is located). But who is the Committee? Under the definitions of the Rules, it’s “The person or group in charge of the competition or the course.”

Wanting not only to know how I should have treated my situation, but also how Model Rule 8E-3 is generally applied in Oregon with so many variables, I contacted a small sample size of courses west of the Cascades. In all but one instance, the course did apply some form of Model Rule 8E-3. (The one course that did not said, “The players should decide by themselves on the first tee.” Very good advice.) But, for the other courses:

  • All apply either the OGA Model Rule or the OPGA Model Rule, all with one-club length in the fairway.
  • Most courses declare application of the applicable Model Rule for the duration of a period, some following the OGA non-posting period, while others declaring application of the Model Rule when the course first gets soggy. Some courses, however, review application of the Model Rule on a weekly basis, and one course reviewed application on a daily basis.
  • The majority of courses do not provide information to the public on if Model Rule 8E-3 is being applied (you have to ask). For those that do, it was through a sign at the clubhouse or on the first tee.
  • Who serves as “the Committee” is an interesting mix. In most cases, where there is a men’s club, the men’s club has a committee (that may or may not include the pro or supervisor) who determines the local rule that is applied and for how long. On some courses, the pro decides. In one instance the folks in the pro shop decide. And in one instance the course supervisor decides.

In my situation, I found that the course used the OGA version of the Model Rule, and that there was no declaration of GUR extending to sod-covered water bubbles. Given my impulsive nature, I did the wrong thing, because in applying applicable Model Rule 8E-3, my reference point should have been where the ball rested, not what I did (the edge of the mud bubble). By using an incorrect reference spot, I played from the wrong spot and the nimrod was right.

What I should have done was all or any of the following:

  • Know the local rules and their application at that course before heading out by asking the folks at the pro shop.
  • Clarify on the first tee with my playing partner what we would consider GUR or ACC for our play and what relief was available.
  • Play a provisional when my golfing partner questioned what I was doing and check with the pro shop after we finished our round.

[Or, if the folks in the pro shop determine application of the rules, tip them really well before playing with the nimrod. Not a bribe, just a show of appreciation.]

Looks like a good day to play

Operating a Family-Owned Golf Course

Oregon is blessed with a great diversity of courses: world class public courses, exquisite private courses, and great neighborhood courses in every corner of the state. Ownership of these courses is also very diverse: well-to-do individuals, multi-national corporations, municipalities, local partnerships, neighborhoods, clubs, and families.

Some of the best times I have had playing golf in Oregon have been on family or individually owned and operated courses that dot the state. You can tell by playing the course and talking with the owners that operating a family or individually owned golf course is a labor (long hours every day) of love. I wanted to get a better understanding about how one or two people could possibly operate a golf course and why they do it.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to talk with three such owners. Their backgrounds and interest in running a golf course is as diverse as the golf courses they operate.

Olalla GC

Eric Wayne Anderson is the owner and operator of Olalla Valley Golf Club, a nine-hole, par 37 course outside of the Newport/Toledo area on the Oregon Coast. Born in Portland, Oregon, Eric worked in Bend for a map and blue print store when he was introduced to golf when doing aerial photography at Crosswater. He then got hired at Crosswater in 1998 where he worked on the greenkeeping crew for four years. He then helped to build the Nicklaus Course at Pronghorn and obtained his horticultural degree at Oregon State University. Eric then interned at St Andrews (yes, that St Andrews), and returned to be the director of facilities (including the golf course) at Skamaina Lodge in Washington. He was looking for a change and wanted to be on the coast when the job of managing Olalla opened in 2015. He then bought the course in 2018 (the property is leased from a third party).

Chris Gesik is the owner and operator of Frontier Golf Club, a nine-hole, three-par course south of Portland. Born and raised in Oregon, Chris spent most of his life working in the car business. He played golf since he was 8, and was a member of nearby Willamette Country Club for over 20 years. Before buying Frontier in 2018, Chris had no experience in managing or operating a golf course.

Scott McKinney is the owner and operator of Country View Golf Course, a nine-hole, par 36 course between Ontario and Nyssa near the eastern border of the state. Scott was born and raised on a family farm in Idaho and went to college at Treasure Valley Community College. He worked in a variety of jobs, including timber, public works, and State Parks. He had only played a few rounds of golf before deciding to design and build Country View. The course was built in 1998 and opened in 1999.

Frontier GC

Why did you buy a golf course?
Eric: Ego. I always thought I could do it better and cheaper, but found out that it takes so much more to operate a course, especially when you include clubhouse operations.
Chris: I lived close by and was familiar with the property when it came up for sale. I thought it was a reasonable price for just the property and the house. The course was in really bad shape, and I knew, even with zero experience, I could do better.
Scott: My parents bought the property as a farm. I then convinced them to convert the farm to a golf course. Neither had played golf before [Scott’s father has passed, but his mother took up the game and still plays at 80]. I was convinced so I convinced them that operating a course might be a better than having to keep changing the hand lines on a farm every day.

Describe your course.
Eric: A beautiful but challenging course. Great place to chase a ball around and have a great time.
Chris: Beautiful, fun, and challenging 9-hole, par-3 course. Great for beginners and still a lot of fun for the lower handicap player.
Scott: Family owned and family friendly 9-hole course with canyons, ups, downs, and all-arounds. A place where you can improve your game, or can learn if you are just starting.

What are your duties in operating the course?
Eric: Everything. In the summer I work 3am to 7pm most days. I get up and water and set the course. Then I work in the clubhouse. The afternoons I do what needs to be done on the course, in the clubhouse, or doing the books. Outside of summer, most days are from 6am to 6pm.
Chris: Until recently, I did everything, on the course and inside the clubhouse. Hours are pretty much 6:30 in the morning to 7 at night, 7 days a week. In the winter, I am able to shorten that a few hours each day.
Scott: Everything. Clubhouse, mowing, mechanic, accounting. I take out the garbage and clean the bathrooms. Hours on the course run sunrise to sunset, and then I do books and repair work at night. Seven days a week.

Country View GC

Do you get any help?
Eric: Only in the summer time, when my stepson and his girlfriend help. He helps with mowing, and she works in the clubhouse.
Chris: I do for plugging and sanding the greens, equipment repair and maintenance, and tree removal. I do all the day to day “crew” work. My wife, as of recently, helps in the clubhouse.
Scott: My wife and mother help in the clubhouse. My kids helped until they got old enough to know better. My brothers help with the big projects. But there are also a lot of volunteers and members of the men’s club who help on the range, mowing, trimming, and fixing up things. The course would not survive if it wasn’t for the volunteers and members.

What has been the biggest positive surprise for you in operating the course?
Eric: I get to run with my vision of the greens. I have been able to install bent grass and have kept the poa annua away.
Chris: Support from the community. Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t stop and thank me for getting the course back in shape.
Scott: Meeting all the people and being able to give to the community. And having a place where the family could be and work together.

What has been the biggest negative surprise for you in operating the course?
Eric: Taxes. Not just taxes but the many types of taxes. I am not against paying taxes, I just didn’t know there would be so many types.
Chris: The hours. It’s a lot of work!
Scott: The long hours, especially the number of hours required in the clubhouse.

Olalla GC

Did you have an ideal of what operating a course could be like before you bought one?
Eric: Yes, because of managing the course before. But I did not maintain the books for the full operations until after I became owner, and that was a whole different thing.
Chris: I really wanted to build something that the community could be proud of again. In its heyday, Frontier was a real hidden gem. I wanted it to be the same, just not quite so hidden.
Scott: I was thinking that it would be steady work and that in a few years I could build another nine holes.

How close to that ideal did you get?
Eric: Pretty close, except the long hours and the financial squeeze that prevents me from obtaining the help I need to operate the course like I want to.
Chris: I am getting pretty close. Each year the course gets better and better.
Scott: We never got sustained traction. Golf went way down in 2011 and 2018 and we suffered a lot of damage from the snow in 2017. Every time it started to look like things would be better, something would happen to make it slip back. From a financial perspective, it’s more like operating a family farm: you have good years and you have bad years.

What is your greatest expense?
Eric: Labor and electricity.
Chris: Equipment. The only thing here that was functional when I bought the property was an old John Deere walk-behind mower. I still use it today. Month to month its fuel, electricity, and fertilizer.
Scott: Power, fuel, and equipment repair and lease costs.

Country View GC

What is your target audience?
Eric: From the Willamette Valley and up and down the coast. We get regular players from Corvallis as well as Toledo, Newport, Lincoln City, and Waldport.
Chris: Families. I really like the mom, dad, and two kid foursomes. Those kids are my future business!
Scott: When we opened, it was mostly retirees from the area. But we are seeing a lot more women and juniors and we are trying to accommodate them with events and fee breaks. We regularly get players from as far away as Boise and Burns.

How are you trying to reach more possible players?
Eric: Facebook and targeted TV ads, especially in Corvallis.
Chris: Just word of mouth.
Scott: I have a tight advertising budget. I have tried TV, radio, and newspaper ads, but they didn’t seem to work. Now it is mostly word of mouth, that includes people’s Facebook pages about the course.

What is your favorite thing about owning and operating a golf course?
Eric: It’s really an honor to serve the local golfers, and I am thankful to operate the course. It is also great to have the final say in what is done on the course.
Chris: Most of the time, I enjoy the work and being outside. When I had a desk job for all those years, it was something I wish I could do.
Scott: Being on the course in the morning and watching the sun rise. Seeing the dew on the grass and the view across the valley from Nyssa to Ontario. Being the only thing out there except the deer and the turkeys. It is really peaceful.

Frontier GC

What is your least favorite thing about owning and operating a golf course?
Eric: Lack of sleep. Not having the collaborative experience where I can talk with others to bounce ideas off of.
Chris: The number of hours. The place would not work financially if I had to hire people to help. And I was operating at a loss for two to three years before turning it around.
Scott: The long hours that you put in seven days a week. You can get burned out.

What is your advice to anyone considering buying a golf course?
Eric: You need thick skin. Everyday someone complains. But you do get to look at the course and say “I did that.”
Chris: Need to keep costs under control and plan for the worst. If you get lucky, and things turn out well, that’s great. But know your limits and be prepared to step away. For the first six weeks after we bought the course, all I did was pick up sticks and pinecones that were embedded in the ground. It’s 45 degrees and raining sideways and I am thinking “What did I do?”
Scott: The irrigation system is the life blood of the course. The pumps are the heart and the lines are the veins. If you do not have a good, reliable irrigation system, you can be in big trouble. And know how big the local golfing public is and what they are like.

Now that you know more about these courses, I would encourage you to go play them (and have fun)!

Country View owner Scott McKinney with his mom Shirley, grandson Nate, and wife Lynn

Golf Balls as Pollution

Some time ago, I was doing volunteer litter collection in a natural area across the street from a golf course.  Two holes were across the way, a 4-par and a 5-par, and it would have taken a pretty good hook to get to the road, let alone across it.

But I found several hundred golf balls in various states, and it made me wonder: how long do golf balls last and do they break down and pollute as they age in the elements.

Materials of the Modern Golf Ball

golf ball pollution
A Great Oregon Golf Ball

Modern golf balls (which are marked by DuPont’s development of the Surlyn cover in 1967) are generally composed of a core and a cover (two-piece balls). Some balls have additional layers or mantles, which result in three-, four-, and five-piece balls. The cores are almost all rubber, natural or synthetic (there may be some old balls with liquid center cores). Metals, such as zinc, are added to the core to help it cure and enhance performance (speed the ball’s return to its original shape after the compression caused by impact). Dye is also added to provide a color to the core.

Covers are generally surlyn, a plastic resin (also used for single-use containers), but can also be urethane, a synthetic elastomer or synthetic rubber. Surlyn is said to provide for more distance, while urethane provides greater spin and therefore control. Cover paints are also added.

When a ball has additional layers between the core and cover (for example, TaylorMade’s five-layer ball), additional resins and thermal plastics with proprietary additives are used.

So, essentially, a golf ball is made of rubber, plastics, other synthetics, and some metals. If a ball were to instantly decompose upon impact with the ground, it would probably not be great for the fairway grass.

How Long Do Lost Golf Balls Last?

Golf Digest has stated that the shelf life (storage in a cool and dry place) of a ball, where there is no change in performance, is at least five to seven years (Titleist says five years). It is possible that three-plus-piece balls may have a shorter life because of additional stresses (heating, cooling, reforming) placed on the ball during manufacturing. Exposure to excessive heat or cold can shorten the shelf life of a ball.

This is a pretty long shelf life, but what about used balls? Golf Digest hasGolf Balls as Pollution stated that a ball should last at least seven 18-hole rounds without any compromise in performance. But for us average golfers, a ball should last a lot longer. The folks at Practical Golf were provided with recovered (but unscuffed), lost balls from Two Guys With Balls and found no difference in performance compared to new balls. See article.  There was no description of how long the balls were in the elements or what kind of elements the balls were exposed to (they may not have known).

To determine if a found ball is any good, assuming you don’t have a private driving range handy, the easiest test is the bounce test. Drop a new ball and the used ball on an even, hard, not easily breakable surface and see if they sound and behave the same. If they do, add the used ball to your bag. If the found ball does not bounce as well, sounds funny, or if the used ball is cracked or scuffed in any way, toss it in the shag bag or trash. A ball that is even slightly chipped or scratched can lose its compression and/or spin rate very quickly.

Golf Balls as Pollution

But that’s performance. What about a golf ball as a pollutant? When does a ball start to decompose and release its ingredients of plastics, synthetics, and metals?

A study in the 2000s by the Danish Golf Union estimated that it would take between 100 and 1000 years for a golf ball to decompose. (Surprisingly, this study was the only study on the speed of decomposition of golf balls that I was able to find – Students! There is a PhD dissertation waiting here!) Certain conditions may cause a ball to decompose faster. For example, sunlight exposure may increase the speed of erosion of the cover of the ball; a ball that is cracked or chipped has greater surface areas to speed decay; and a ball that continues to strike a surface, such as a ball rolling around on the ocean floor, may fall apart much faster.

But if modern balls generally take at least 100 years to decompose, what’s the big deal? Well, there are a lot of lost balls. The Danish Golf Union estimated that approximately 300 million golf balls are lost each year in the United States. (It has also been estimated that the average golfer loses two balls per 18-hole round. National Golf Foundation stated that in 2013, there were over 465 million rounds played. Assuming these are 9-hole rounds, that would still be over 400 million balls lost each year in the United States!)

Of course, not all balls that are lost stay lost. Shaun Shienfield, president of Foundgolfballs.com, estimated that over 100 million balls are found, processed, and resold every year. (The recycled golf ball industry has become a massive business, with estimated sales of over $200 million. The largest player, PG Golf, is owned by Acushnet, the parent company of Titleist.) Millions of additional golf balls are recovered by other players (like me), found by industrious youngsters for personal resale, or are chipped apart or buried by mowers. But if 300 – 400 million balls are lost each year, 100 million balls are recovered and reused through the used golf ball market, and maybe an equal amount recovered by other players, industrious youngsters, and the maintenance crew, there are still probably a large number of balls that are permanently lost. Maybe 100 million. That number of golf balls would cover about 20 football fields. That’s 20 football fields of plastics and metals waiting to be released, with 20 more football fields being added each year.

Where do these lost balls go? There are probably a bunch on or near courses

Golf Balls as pollution
Lakes, the great golf ball collector

in inaccessible areas (under blackberry bushes or cacti, or across the street from a course). But the majority are probably ending up in water hazards (think large collection areas) that are not subject to recovery programs. There are lots of examples of this. In 2009, scientists exploring Loch Ness for evidence of the resident monster found over 100,000 golf balls in the Ness. Hundreds of golf balls were found in or on the shore of Lake Michigan next to Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club. Over 50,000 balls were found in a two-year period in and on the shores of Monterey Bay, the home of multiple famed courses including Pebble Beach. In Oregon, Meadow Lakes in Prineville reports that it recovers over 25,000 balls each year from its lakes (which are added to the used ball market).

In a January 18, 2019, article in The Conversation, researchers from Stanford who have been studying the golf balls recovered from Monterey Bay have found that many balls were “severely degraded” possibly owing to the constant mechanics of wave motion tossing balls against sand and rock. See Article .  As balls degrade, they release microplastics that are harmful to wildlife (and may eventually end up in the food chain). In response to these findings, the Pebble Beach Company teamed up with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to help clean up the bay and reduce further golf ball contributions to the bay. Pebble Beach Company now has a golf ball recovery program, where it sends divers into the bay at least 200 times each year. It also sends its employees to pick up balls on the beach, and has a prohibition on players intentionally hitting balls into the ocean.

An informal poll of several golf courses in Oregon found that many courses have a recovery program for golf balls in water hazards (and many of those courses get compensation for the golf balls that are removed). But many courses in Oregon do not have any recovery program. There are only two golf destinations in Oregon that have golf holes along the ocean or bays that feed directly into the ocean: Bandon and Salishan, both Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries. Salishan presently does not have any program to prevent balls from going into or collect balls from Siletz Bay. Bandon did not respond to requests for information on any program it may have to prevent balls from going into the ocean or collecting balls from the ocean or beach.  Other courses that have creeks that feed into the ocean are mixed in their approach: some have third parties pick up balls in water hazards (like Seaside Golf Club), some organize volunteers to pick up balls in water hazards (like Neskowin Beach Golf Course), and some have barriers like grates that prevent balls from going down the on-course creek to the ocean (like Sunset Bay Golf Course). Many coastal courses, however, have no program to recover balls from water hazards.

In response to this problem of golf balls as pollution particularly in water, several companies produce environmentally friendly golf balls. Albus Golf produces the Ecobioball, made of biodegradable material (and a core that contains fish food).See AlbusGolf.com  Biodegradable Golf Balls, a Canadian company, produces (you guessed it) a biodegradable ball made of corn starch and polyvinyl alcohol. See Biodegradable GolfBalls.com  Both balls are single-use and quickly dissolve in water. Testing on the Ecobioball shows that its distance for short shots is similar to a standard golf ball, but there is about a 30 percent distance loss with a driver.

Note that Wilson and Dixon both produce what they call “environmentally friendly” balls that are made with recycled materials. Performance of these balls is reported to be very good, and the companies should be celebrated for using recycled materials to manufacture the balls. But the balls are not biodegradable and still contain plastics and metals.

What Should You Do?

Golf Balls as Pollution
How many golf balls can you see in this picture?

It is interesting to note that Audubon International (which operates the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program) has no position on removal of lost balls, particularly from water hazards. But there is no question that the modern golf ball, full of plastics and metals, is a pollutant when lost. Indeed, the hitting of standard golf balls off a ship into the ocean was essentially banned by international treaty (Annex V of the MARPOL Treaty). The bigger concern is the harmful effects caused as the ball begins to decompose. This problem seems most immediate for balls that end up in bodies of water that are subject to constant motion (think ocean and tidal areas).

So what should the environmentally conscientious golfer do?

If you find a ball, pick it up. Then dispose of it properly (in the bag, to a friend, in the shag bag, or in the trash).

Keep the ball out of the water hazard (you knew this). If your ball goes into the water (that is not OB), drop – don’t chance another ball going into the water (unless your second ball is a biodegradable ball). And spend a moment trying to recover the original ball.

Do not ever intentionally hit a ball into the beach, bay, ocean, or any water unless the ball is biodegradable.

Ask your course if it has a program to remove balls from water hazards and, if not, suggest that the course could make a profit if it contacted a golf ball retrieval company.

Right now, golf balls as pollution is a small problem. But like many things, if unabated it could end up being a significant problem to both habitats and humans. And, like many things, a little effort now will prevent a big problem later.

Prior Articles and Interviews please e-mail [email protected] if you would like to view any of the Prior Articles and Interviews:
Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses in Oregon
Oregon Golf in the Age of COVID-19

The Highest Golf Course In Oregon
Earliest Golf Courses in Central Oregon
Improving Diversity on OregonCourses (Parts I and II)
Interview with Vincent Johnson

Interview with Vincent Johnson, Director of Golf for Portland Parks and Recreation

Vincent Johnson is often referred to as “one of the best golfers to comeVincent Johnson out of Portland.” Born in 1986, his father, Daren, was a golf mechanic at Glendoveer. Vincent started playing at 6 and set the course record at Glendoveer West when he was 14. A graduate of David Douglas High School, he won over 60 tournaments as a junior. He graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in finance. On the OSU golf team, Vincent was a 3-time all-academic selection, and won the 2005 NW Collegiate Classic and the 2007 PGA Minority College Golf Championship.

In 2009, after appearing on Big Break, he became the first recipient of Charlie Sifford Exemption for the (now) Geniuses Open. (If you don’t know who Charlie Sifford is, please check this out.) In 2010, he won Long Beach Open and began playing on the Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour, where he was two-time was player of the year (2010 and 2011) and won the APGA Tour Championship (Vincent was elected into the APGA Hall of Fame in 2017).

There is a lot more that can be said about Vincent (Umpqua Challenge participant, golf instructor, businessman, pianist), but most important for the purposes of this article, Vincent was appointed the Assistant Director of Golf for Portland Parks and Recreation (“PP&R”) in 2016. In 2018, he was appointed Director of Golf, taking over from long-time director John Zoller.

Eastmoreland
Eastmoreland Golf Course

As Director of Golf, Vincent oversees one of the most varied and acclaimed municipal golf complexes in the county. Comprised of over 800 acres, the courses owned by the City of Portland are: Eastmoreland (a Chandler Egan design, seventh oldest course in Oregon and two-time host of the USGA Amateur Public Links Championship), Rose City (clubhouse is on the National Register of Historic Places), Heron Lakes (both Blue and Greenback courses, home of the former NW Open and the 2000 USGA Amateur Public Links Championship), RedTail, and Colwood (a golf practice complex that includes a 3-par course).

Vincent became Director of Golf at a difficult time for the Portland municipal courses. Although historically profitable, rounds played had been dropping (46% between 1994 and 2019), while expenses increased faster than green fees. The Golf Fund, which is an operating reserve funded by green fees and concessioners’ payments, went from a balance of $1.5M in 2013 to $300K in 2017. In 2018, right before Vincent became Director, the City of Portland provided an emergency advance of $800,000 to support the courses.

In May 2019, the Portland City Auditor issued a report projecting further decreases in play and revenue and stating concern over the differing types of operation and management contracts among the courses and the lack of oversight and enforcement of those contracts. In response, PP&R drafted an asset management plan that showed a $43 million backlog in maintenance, and annual maintenance cost of $1.9 million.  PP&R also extended the operating contract at Heron to end in 2021, so that the operating contracts at Heron, Eastmoreland, Rose City, and Colwood would all end at the same time.

Covid caused a change in the downward trends of rounds played and revenue. Between fiscal years 2019 and 2020, rounds played went up by 14% and revenue increased by 10%. It is presently projected that rounds played and revenue will continue to significantly increase between fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The substantial increase in revenue will allow some of the maintenance backlog to be addressed . It is unlikely that any revenue from the 2020 Park’s levy will be used to address the maintenance backlog.

It is in this environment that I had the privilege of speaking with Vincent.

What was the happiest moment for you when you were participating in all of the circuits (junior, college, and pro)?
A month and a half before I set the course record at Glendoveer, I was playing at Crosswater in a junior tournament. On the second and final round, I shot a 40 on the front 9 and was way out of contention. But on the back [the front 9], I scrambled to save par on the 10th hole and then shot 5 under the remainder of the round to win the tournament by a stroke. It was the best I had ever played 9 holes. That 9 really impacted my development as a golfer.
Another great moment for me was the phone call I received for the Charlie Sifford Exemption. I did send in an application and resume, but I had forgotten about it. When the CEO of Northern Trust
[the then sponsor of the tournament] called and asked if I wanted to play, I thought it was a prank call. There was a lot of cheering in the house after that call.

What was your biggest regret?
I started to work with Brian Henninger in 2009. I had minimal formal training before then, and Brian was great.  Seven months later, I won the Long Beach Open. But going into the 2010 off season, I got lost in trying to achieve the perfect swing, and became too critical of myself.

Why did you take the job of Assistant Director?
I could not have found a better fit coming out of a shortened pro career. With my experiences in the golf business and teaching, and knowing where golf had to go, I felt it was a perfect fit, especially in the city where I grew up.

When you were hired in 2016, the public statement was that you would promote a positive engagement for youth and under-represented communities. Have you been able to do that?

Eagle Caddy program
EAGLE Caddies at Rose City GC. Photo curtesy of Portland Parks & Recreation


Yes, we have made progress. We support Leisure Hour Junior Golf and The First Tee at Colwood.  The pro at Colwood does outings with NAYA [Native American Youth and Family Center], community colleges, as well as women’s clinics. We have the EAGLE Caddy program, which provides summer employment opportunities for high school students with financial need. And in 2020, we started the YA Golf PDX program, attracting 20- to 29- year-olds with discounted rates and instruction, loaned clubs, and events. In our first year, we signed up over 1100 members.These programs can connect golf with underrepresented communities. But these are spot programs. Golf is a lifetime game. There are gaps in programming and support as a person progresses from learning the game to playing for life. We need to develop programs for each step.

I have also presented on the history of golf and its relation to women and BIPOC communities, both internally and externally. This was to show how past policies, practices and culture have impacted the game to this day. There is still a lack of women and BIPOC participation in golf and our Golf Program needs to continue to make progress in equity trainings and changing culture. This will be vital in providing a more equitable golf system in Portland.

What was the biggest surprise since taking the Assistant position?
How much people do not know about the benefits that courses provide. Each course is a city asset with multiple benefits for the public. People can come out and use the putting greens for free. They can be loaned a club and try the driving range for not much money. And golf is a sport that can be accessible and not exclusive, where multiple skill levels can play together, that a family can enjoy together. The courses also provide a large amount of green space for habitat, nature and provide environmental stewardship without tax payer money. [The Heron Lakes complex and Eastmoreland are Audubon International Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuaries.]

Heron Lakes
Heron Lakes (Great Blue)

What was the biggest thing that you did not appreciate about the job before taking it?
That it takes so much to make a city go. On the inside you appreciate the coordination needed for operations and responding to so many different things. This past year has highlighted that with the fires and Covid.

The Portland area suffered a severe snow and ice storm in February of this year, where a lot of trees and limbs came down. What were the conditions of courses after the storm?
Rose City and Eastmoreland had a lot of tree loss. Our first priority is player safety, and then look of the course. Our staff was on it quickly, but staff levels were down and that is why it might have been slower to reopen the courses than we all wanted. But overall, the damage was not too bad, just a bit more than what we usually see in the winter.

How do rounds played look for 20-21?
Since Covid, golf rounds have been up 32% program wide. One of the more noticeable differences is with average or below average weather. The weather that would keep more golfers away in the past, they are now playing through. I think Covid is a large factor. On top of that, Broadmoor closed in October, so we expect golf rounds to remain at these higher levels for 2021.

Do you think the increase in rounds will continue after we get over Covid isolation?
Yes. We have been trying to make the golf experience as positive as possible. And I believe that there is an affinity for open space that people have been reintroduced to. Expectation and experience are closely aligned for our customers, which is one key to retention. Also, the closing of Broadmoor should have a lasting impact on the rounds at the remaining Portland courses.

PP&R drafted an asset management plan that showed about $43million in maintenance backlog and $1.9 million in annual maintenance.  Does the maintenance backlog include design changes to the courses or remolding of clubhouses (maybe a new clubhouse at Heron)?
No. The number is only to replace and repair our current infrastructure.

If you had an unlimited budget, what changes would you make to the courses or operations?
I would want to improve access to the game and access to the facilities. Investment in golf spaces would help lower barriers that can keep people out, including the perception of the game. Improvements that help non-golfers and unrepresented communities view golf spaces as viable opportunities to gather and recreate would help the Golf Program grow the game in Portland. Also, with an unlimited budget, increasing staffing would help the overall conditioning of the golf courses.

All of the contracts for the eastside courses (including the Heron courses) now end this year. What is the status of obtaining new contracts?
We have retained consultants to review operations at all of the courses and provide advice on how to move forward. What we have told the consultants is that any advice has to fit our priorities: environmental stewardship, financial stability and sustainability, and increasing equity and participation throughout the golf system.

Do you know the type of contract (concessionaire, lease, management) you want to enter into and if you want all the courses managed with the same operator?
Not at this time.

What is your favorite Portland municipal course?
That’s like asking a parent who their favorite child is.

RedTail Golf Course
RedTail Golf Course

What should people know about Portland municipal courses?
That there are many ways that the courses can serve you. You could play a round of golf without a lot of money, you can rent clubs if you don’t have them, and can even use the putting greens for free.  The courses provide a lot of opportunity and a fair value for recreation.

Why should golfers play Portland municipal courses?
Because we have a great municipal golf system. Our courses are affordable, while also being reputable enough to have hosted USGA championships. Public golf courses play a leading role in exposure and access to those new to the game, and the continued engagement and support for established golfers will help us ensure that the game is thriving for the next generation in Portland.

Anything else you would like to add?
It will be interesting to see what the conversation will be 12 to 15 months from now, in terms of financial condition and who and how many people are playing.  Right now, we are doing our best to provide a great experience for people every day.

Prior Articles and Interviews please e-mail [email protected] if you would like to view any of the Prior Articles and Interviews:
Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses in Oregon
Oregon Golf in the Age of COVID-19

The Highest Golf Course In Oregon
Earliest Golf Courses in Central Oregon
Improving Diversity on OregonCourses (Parts I and II)