Getting to know Lee Gidney
If you’ve played in NCGA championships over the past three years, odds are you have met Lee Gidney. From 2010-2012 Gidney served the NCGA’s championships and events department as its tournament committee chairman, guiding it through three full tournament seasons. Whether it was announcing names on the first tee or discussing a rules infraction with a player in the scoring area, the 65-year-old Vacaville resident has done it all. He was honored to be able to work close with both the NCGA staff and dozens of volunteers, recognizing that none of this could be accomplished without a synergistic component between the two. A retired U.S. Air Force and commercial airline pilot, Gidney was happy to reflect on his time in this defined role.
How did you first get involved with volunteering at NCGA golf tournaments?
Actually what got me started was in 1995, three friends and myself qualified for the NCGA Zone Championship from our golf club. We came down for our two rounds at Spyglass Hill and I was just kind of overwhelmed by the professionalism of the event—the volunteers out on the course, who could answer questions for [awry] shots that didn’t find the fairway; the starters, just the whole situation in general was very impressive.
[After the event] I went back to my club and I met someone who was an NCGA tournament official and I mentioned to him how impressed I was with everything, and he suggested that if I was really interested that I should volunteer. So in 1996, I volunteered, interviewed and did all the stuff and started in 1997 as a tournament official.
As tournament committee chairman for the NCGA you have overseen the majority of NCGA championships the past three years, what’s it been like having that responsibility over numerous events?
For me it’s always been about the product we produce from the championships and events department. I wanted to make sure that tournaments are well-run and professional as they can be, because for the majority of our players and particularly the net players, this will probably be their biggest exposure to tournament golf. So, I want a player to come [to an NCGA championship] and understand what it’s like to have that opportunity—to be announced on the first tee, to have a big scoreboard that has their name on it and a summary sheet, just as you’d see in any big championship. I’ve always tried to do that, whether it was a Thursday qualifier when I was a tournament official or as the chairman of the championships and events committee, to make sure that these events can be the best that they can be.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during your three years of service as tournament committee chairman for the NCGA?
One of the things we worked real hard as a committee to try and do for our major scratch championships was to insure that our exemption process got us the best players that should be playing in the field. [Example: Players who qualify for the match play portion of a USGA championship are exempt to all eligible NCGA championships over the following 12-month period]. We get a lot of requests for exemptions, so I wanted to build a system that insures the right people got exemptions, those who have demonstrated excellence and really played well. We spent a fair amount of time as a committee in my second year to redo the exemption policy.
From a tournament chairman’s viewpoint, what’s one piece of advice you would give to players who compete in an NCGA championship?
Before a player competes in an NCGA championship, the thing that most players really need to do, and a lot don’t, is become familiar with the material we provide players prior to the championship because the majority of the time it will help the player to play better. In particular, the one thing I would have players focus on is the pace of play policy. Players should become very familiar with that to make sure that they can play within the allotted time outlined by the committee. Frankly, every level of tournament golf that I’ve been exposed to from the club level to national championships, pace of play is always an issue.
If the USGA allowed you to change one rule in golf, what would it be and why?
I would be inclined to take hazards as they are defined by the Rules of Golf—bunkers and water hazards—and make those through the green. My reasoning is that the nuances of what you can do in those areas as opposed to what you can do through the green are too complex for the average golfer to deal with. Players get trapped on occasion by mistake, by little things that happen in hazards that cost them penalty strokes, which have no effect on the outcome of the game. I have never understood why, through the green, I can take several practice swings in deep grass in order to get a feel for what that shot will be like, but in a bunker I can’t take one practice swing to gauge how soft or how hard it is. I think it’s a matter of tradition, but I’m not sure that it’s productive.
You competed in an NCGA Championship this year yourself—the NCGA Super Senior Championship—what is more stressful, running a championship as tournament chair or hitting a tee shot off the first tee?
It’s really not more stressful, but I will tell you I was nervous having to hit my first tee shot in front of good players. I really didn’t go there with any high expectations of winning, but I enjoyed competing. I probably feel a greater responsibility running an event than I do playing, because when I’m running an event I’m responsible to all the players in the field to make sure everything goes as it should.
What’s your greatest moment on a golf course?
The one special moment that I won’t forget is the first time I got to play golf in Scotland I got to play the Old Course at St. Andrews with three good friends. To this day I can still remember hitting that tee shot on the first hole. That was a pretty heart stopping moment.