Let’s have a na­tional four­ball event

BY STU­ART McLEAN, EDI­TOR

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - 6/15 Behind The Scenes - stu­art.mclean@new­me­di­a­pub.co.za

There’s a familiar rit­ual ev­ery day on the first tee of golf cour­ses around South Africa. Four balls are tossed into the air, with the two land­ing clos­est to each other be­com­ing part­ners for the round. Or per­haps it’s two friends up against two long­time ri­vals. This is golf as most of us know and love it, the game of four­ball bet­ter­ball, ei­ther Stable­ford or match­play.

The SA Golf As­so­ci­a­tion are do­ing away with their long-stand­ing Un­der-23 in­ter­provin­cial, and for me this rep­re­sents an op­por­tu­nity for them to give some­thing back to club golfers, those who pay their pro­vin­cial and na­tional af­fil­i­a­tion fees year out and year in with­out much in re­turn.

Rather than hav­ing an­other event for elite play­ers (who have more than enough), let’s have a na­tional bet­ter­ball cham­pi­onship. This would re­quire new think­ing on the part of the SAGA, but this kind of for­ward vi­sion would recog­nise the pop­u­lar­ity of bet­ter­ball golf.

We can have qual­i­fy­ing sites in ev­ery prov­ince – based on the num­ber of golfers in each union, so that Cen­tral Gaut­eng would, for in­stance, have three qual­i­fiers, and Lim­popo or Bor­der just one each. Th­ese would be 36-hole medal qual­i­fiers, with no strokes. Ev­ery­one plays off scratch. This wouldn’t be a cham­pi­onship where ringers could flour­ish, as in those spon­sored bet­ter­ball na­tional fi­nals where the win­ning pairs are re­warded with an in­ter­na­tional trip.

To make it more in­clu­sive of a range of abil­i­ties, I pro­pose three sep­a­rate di­vi­sions. The A di­vi­sion would com­prise golfers with hand­i­caps of 4 or lower, the B di­vi­sion for those with hand­i­caps 5 to 9, and the C di­vi­sion from 10 to 15. A few T&Cs would make it a proper club golfer cham­pi­onship. In the A di­vi­sion, for ex­am­ple, the com­bined hand­i­caps should not be lower than 2. That would pre­vent two hotshot +4 home-schooled non-work­ing am­a­teurs from pair­ing up. And I be­lieve cur­rent pro­vin­cial play­ers should be ex­cluded.

As for the most im­por­tant T&C, en­try should be re­served for mem­bers of golf clubs who ac­tu­ally play at their home course, not those who be­long to vir­tual clubs. This would help en­gen­der club spirit. It doesn’t stop a player from pair­ing up with a buddy from an­other golf club.

Fol­low­ing the qual­i­fiers, there would be a week-long na­tional cham­pi­onship at three of our top cour­ses, for 192 pairs, 64 from each di­vi­sion. Each di­vi­sion would play in a dif­fer­ent re­gion. The A di­vi­sion might be at Hume­wood, the B di­vi­sion at Dur­ban CC, and the C di­vi­sion at Bloem­fontein, but all would be played in the same week. The fi­nals would be en­tirely match­play, first of all in round-robin groups, and then knock­out.

It sounds like a mas­sive event, and that’s the way it should be per­ceived. The po­ten­tial is there to at­tract per­haps a thou­sand team en­tries each year (far more play­ers than en­ter the SA Am­a­teur or SA Open), and make it a cham­pi­onship in which ev­ery­one de­sires to play. En­try fees and a na­tional spon­sor should eas­ily pay for it – fi­nal­ists would be re­quired to pay their own travel and ac­com­mo­da­tion – and the SAGA can ad­min­is­ter it, one of their strengths.

Women’s Golf South Africa could cre­ate a sim­i­lar event for their af­fil­i­ated mem­bers, and I’m sure that would be equally popular.

In case the SAGA hi­er­ar­chy don’t read Golf Di­gest, I’m email­ing this col­umn to ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Bruce Younge and pres­i­dent Ger­hard Con­radie. Let’s do this.

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