Behind the scenes of a championship
The process of staging a major amateur golf tournament begins months before the event transpires. Taking the recent NCGA Amateur Stroke Play Championship as its sample, in the article below NCGA.org lays out the timeline leading up to the tournament, which took place in mid-July. While golf fans see the end result – in the NCGA Amateur Stroke Play’s case winner Ben Geyer holding the championship trophy – the effort leading up the end is comprehensive and at times exhausting.
November – NCGA tournament calendar is finalized for the upcoming season with times, dates and locations established for each of the nearly 400 NCGA tournament days. This in-depth process is undertaken by the entire championships and events department, under the coordination of the director and assistant directors.
December – Tournament officials start vying for assignments by submitting their requests and availability to the championships and events department. Each official receives a 15-page document listing all qualifiers, championships, junior tour, co-administered and other sanctioned events in which the talents of NCGA officials are needed.
February —The tournament officials calendar is released, and the team of individuals scheduled to officiate and administer the NCGA Stroke Play Championship is selected.
Tournament officials that volunteer their efforts for the NCGA attend rules seminars and go through a certification process to demonstrate their ability to handle potential situations that might arise on the golf course. This ongoing effort of continuing education is year-long, with focused seminars for new and returning tournament and rules officials. NCGA tournament officials volunteer their time and travel at their own expense to administer the NCGA’s comprehensive schedule of events.
Two months out- The entry deadline passes with 360 players committing to play in the championship (with 17 of those players exempted into the championship proper due to their status as a past champion, points list standing, etc.). NCGA staffers Jane Jones and Darin Dodd assemble the qualifying fields and contact the volunteer tournament officials in charge of the individual qualifiers with final details.
One month out – Approximately three to four weeks in advance of the event, Ryan Farb, assistant director of championships and events, completes a pre-check of the course conditions at Poppy Hills, the host venue for the championship. Farb and other NCGA staff members determine the desired area for each hole location and note any hazards or other course layout considerations that might need to be taken into account during tournament play.
Approximately one month prior, qualifying is held at six locations (Coyote Creek, Del Monte, Roddy Ranch, Rooster Run, Stevinson Ranch, Teal Bend) with top finishers moving on to join exempt players in forming the championship field. Jones and Dodd receive qualifying scorecards, verify results and assemble the final championship field.
Two weeks out — Tournament chairman and NCGA board member Lee Gidney receives materials from the NCGA staff. Information on practice rounds, conditions of competition, assignments, course information and a pairings sheet are just a few of the documents needed by the chairman. For some tournaments such as qualifying events, the packet also includes scorecards, scoreboards and labels and the final results sheet. At this point, if Gidney is unfamiliar with the host course, he might visit to get a lay of the land, introduce himself to club staff and tour the course looking for any potential areas of concern that might need to be highlighted to the rest of the tournament committee.
Two days out – Media coordinator Spencer Sorensen prepares a tournament preview highlighting the tournament’s history and past champions. He scours the field for featured pairings to keep an eye on in the opening round, including six-time NCGA Player of the Year Randy Haag and the California State Amateur runner-up Ben Geyer.
One day out – Farb revisits the course, ensuring all hazards are marked with the appropriate red or yellow border. Adjustments are made, paint lines are touched up and drop zones are outlined. The greens are dotted to mark hole locations for the tournament and tees are set to the championship length specified.
Friday; 6:30 a.m. – The tournament’s opening day has arrived and the real work for the on-course administrators and tournament committee and representatives begins bright and early at the morning meeting. Gidney distributes paperwork and reviews assignments with the officiating crew. Equipment is issued and scoring and playoff procedures are visited. Club policies and highlighted rules and decisions are discussed to ensure everyone is well prepared for any situation that might arise on the golf course. For Gidney and many others including assistant director of championships and events Rick Leoncio who staffs the event, welcoming the sunrise will be the norm for the duration of this three-day tournament.
Friday; 7:20 a.m. – Starters on the first and 10th tees take their mark to greet the first groups to tee off. NCGA board members Brian Morse and Paul Yost do more than just announce names and hometowns in their role as starter. The starter facilitates the introduction of fellow-competitors, the exchange of scorecards and the showing of distinguishing ball marks. Starters also go over any tournament-related rules and course information that might be pertinent as the round progresses. Then it’s time to announce each fellow-competitor as he or she swings away.
Throughout the day, the air crackles with the sounds of walkie talkies and the voices of committee representatives stationed around the course giving rulings to players, requesting interpretation assistance and providing support to players and fellow officials when needed. Pace of play, a major point of emphasis for tournament officials is relentlessly monitored, with warnings and penalties distributed for players unable to keep to pre-established timetables. Post-round appeal meetings are often held with penalized players where appeals are considered (due to unforeseen course issues, committee delays or issues with a single player in the penalized group).
NCGA staff stays at the course long enough to watch the sunset before the workday is finished. There are scoreboards to update, results to verify, articles to write and pictures to edit before pulling out of the parking lot. And then it’s time to rinse and repeat. Two more early mornings and late nights follow as the players grapple for position on the leaderboard and officials work to ensure the Rules of Golf are followed and the flow of play is not interrupted.
Sunday; 4 p.m. – A champion is crowned, as Ben Geyer pulls out a come-from-behind win on the last day of competition to unseat last year’s winner, Scott Hardy, who happens to be Geyer’s college golf coach at St. Mary’s. Geyer is glad to keep the trophy in the hands of a Gael after outplaying Hardy and the rest of the 152-man field.
The tournament might be over, but the work is never done. The championships and events department already begins preparing for next year’s event where Geyer will look to defend his crown after graduating from college. A review with the tournament committee on how this year’s event progressed and potential improvements to behind-the-scenes operations of the championship is held where these issues are discussed and debated to help propel the tournament onward and upward as each new field vies for the chance to earn the sterling silver perpetual trophy which was donated by the San Francisco Examiner in 1944.