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Golf professionals voice concerns

The future of the game of golf in Utah is both good and bad.

How's that?

Well, there are golf courses springing up across the Beehive State like multilevel companies. They're breaking ground all over, and choices on where to tee it up have never been better for players. Those courses may not make as much money, but golfers will benefit in the long run.

But there's another issue that's not so good. Our best young golfers are cheating at an alarming rate — deflating the integrity of the game, and that could impact the future of how tournaments play out.

These items were the chatter topic among Utah's top golf professionals and the game's amateur watchdog, the Utah Golf Association, on Monday at Thanksgiving Point at a media gathering sponsored by the Utah section of the PGA.

On the heels of the high school golf championships last week, head golf professionals who hosted those golfers in region and state play across the state were appalled at the amount of fudging, cheating and disregard for the rules of golf.

One head pro said cheating was going on in "every foursome" and it was out of control. These professionals pointed the finger at Utah's high school golf coaches, who one claimed were one-third good and two-thirds in it for perks and have left teen golfers to fend for themselves with little or no supervision.

"If I had my way, each coach would have to score a four-some in a tournament and every foursome would be watched," said one head professional. "On their own, these high school players do not know the rules, have no feel for the pace of play (they're slow), and they do not understand the integrity of the game of golf right now."

According to these guardians of the game in Utah, it's a simple breakdown.

Coaches often show up in region play at courses throughout the state and bring two or three "assistant coaches" or an "assistant principal," and they go golfing. "These adults insisting to go before the kids — because their players are too slow and they have to be done first," said one Salt Lake County head professional. "It's a joke."

"Many of the coaches don't know the rules of golf at all," said another.

This issue was underscored last week when one of Utah's best junior golfers, an experienced national player, was disqualified in the state championship tournament. The reason? Cheating.

"I think it's terrible, just a travesty," former Tri-City professional Jimmy Thompson said. "Thing is, golf imitates life."

Now, back to the positives. Well, it's a positive for players but not golf courses or those who own them and need to make money.

Because there are so many more courses, golf revenue is getting watered down. To attract more golfers, some courses are offering two-for-ones or discounts. Great for the player, not so good for courses trying to bring in more coin.

Prime examples are in Davis and Utah counties where there are more golf holes than ever before. Ken Pettingill, 32-year veteran golf professional at Valley View, said in 1995 when his course and Davis Park were the only two nine-hole layouts around, they both did 190,000 rounds. Now, with a late start due to weather this year, they'll be in at about 170,000 rounds. But if you add in new courses at Sun Hills, Glen Eagles and Schneiter's Bluff, golf rounds in the county will finish at about 350,000 this year.

"It's more golf, but it's too much supply," Pettingill said. "We're splitting it too many ways."

This split, however, benefits the golfer because there are more tee times and fewer bodies on the course. Only a few years ago, Pettingill remembers if you didn't get a Saturday-Sunday tee time by 8:30 a.m. Monday morning, you could not play on the weekend. Not any more.

There's a similar growth in Utah County, where in the northern border, where there used to be just Tri-City Golf Course, there is now Thanksgiving Point, The Ranches, Cedar Hills Golf Club and Talons Cove in Saratoga Springs. Next spring, there will be a new 18-hole course in Vineyard near Orem just off Geneva Road.

"There are just more places to play and it's oversaturated to a point right now," Provo's East Bay professional Kean Ridd said.

In Wasatch County, the state just opened up 36 holes in two courses at Soldier Hollow, and Park City will get another course called Tuhaye, a layout designed by Mark O'Meara.

"More people are playing golf than ever before, but it is spread out all over and making it hard for each course to make money," Pettingill said.

Making money and cheating.

Sounds like Wall Street.

Utah PGA section awards

Professional of the Year: Steve Elliott, Rose Park

Teacher of the Year: Michael Marion, Promontory

Horton Smith Award: Colby Cowan, Coral Canyon

John Wallace Award: Jon Unger, Callaway

Bill Strausbaugh Award: Chris Newson, Soldier Hollow

Assistant Pro of the Year: John Pearson, Murray Parkway

Junior Golf Leader: Kirk Abegglen, Golf City

Private Merchandiser: Chris Rudi, Hidden Valley

Public Merchandiser: Jerman./McComb, Bountiful Ridge

Gentleman Jeff Award: Sonny Braun, Hobble Creek

Bill Howard Award: J.D. Donnoly, Special Olympics

Private Superintendent Award: Larry Emery, Hidden Valley

Public Superintendent Award: Glen Evans, Coral Canyon


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com