High school golf is making great strides in cleaning itself up. I'm not the only one noticing.
"Isn't this great?" said Salt Lake golf pro Henry White as he weaved through the crowded clubhouse at Soldier Hollow during last week's Utah High School Golf Championship.
White was referring to the number of parents, relatives, classmates, friends, and just golf nuts who traveled to Soldier Hollow to watch Utah's top prep golfers compete for their most-coveted prize. It truly was an impressive turnout. But what was more impressive to me was how smooth, classy and uncontroversial the whole four-day event was. Trust me, it hasn't always been that way.
As a golf addict, enthusiast and purist, it was disappointing to me over the past few years to see some of the things that happened in prep golf. There were behavior issues, disqualifications and cheating controversies. The main story seemed to be what happened wrong at the state tournament rather than who played well.
That wasn't the case this year. There was absolutely no controversy involving conduct, honesty or playing by the rules. Whenever there was a question involving a ruling, all players and coaches involved conducted themselves in an honorable way. In most cases, they simply needed clarification on how to proceed. I witnessed several players calling penalties on themselves, which has been a rare thing in the past.
Good play, despite the challenging weather, which surely had to frustrate these teenage golfers, took center stage. The winning teams and every player who had a good tournament were holding their heads high. Even those who struggled in the face of the difficult conditions tamed their disappointment in an appropriate manner.
There was more pride, good sportsmanship and good feelings going around than I've ever witnessed at a high school golf match. Teams and players out of contention were out there on that final green cheering for those who were. I saw Springville golfers applauding Provo golfers. I saw Timpview golfers congratulating Payson golfers. I saw Region 7 teams pulling for other Region 7 teams. I saw every team in Region 4 wanting every other team in Region 4 to play well. Parents applauded all good shots and all good efforts, not just those from their own children.
It was a high moment for high school golf, one of the highest in years.
So who do we credit? First, the players are the ones who were in the spotlight and the ones who carried the torch of honor. They clearly are beginning to understand that golf is not a sport for the selfish. More importantly, golf reflects character, and no where is character developed more than in playing this mainly self-officiated sport. It seems to me that high school golfers are tired of the black eye label they were tagged with in the past, and they want to change this image.
Second, members of the Utah Section of the PGA are putting in tireless hours building up and educating the youths of their sport. Pros from courses throughout Utah helped this season and at the state tournament with officiating, swing instruction, score keeping and any kind of golf advice that they freely passed on. The young athletes in prep golf and their local pros are certainly developing cherished, appreciated and lasting relationships.
Finally, the coaches. I've been very critical of high school golf coaches in the past, mainly because I strongly disagree with the practice of coaches playing golf on match days instead of roving the course providing advise and supervision. However, all golf coaches have done a lot over the past year to become better at their jobs and in making their players understand golf better and understand golf behavior better.
Last spring they even organized the first-ever Utah High School Golf Coaches Association. The objectives of the association are to: "Foster an atmosphere of cooperation and good will between schools and the UHSAA; utilize and continue close ties with the Utah Section of the PGA; improve the standard of play of high school golf in Utah; promote the highest standards of sportsmanship and golf etiquette; and educate."
At the group's inaugural meeting last spring, PGA pro Mike Reid gave coaches a little advice on some big advice for their players. "Remind them that they're learning a skill for life."
So far, so good.