Entries for the 33rd annual Classic, scheduled for July 8-10 at Anniston Country Club, Cider Ridge Golf Club and Pine Hill Country Club, are coming in at a predictable pace and event organizers expect an at or near capacity field and hitting their target charitable contribution once again.
As successful as the two-man event has been over the years, two of the biggest scourges of tournament golf — sandbagging and slow play — have emerged in recent years and organizers are intent on cracking down on it.
“We, as the committee, don’t want to act like Big Brother out there,” tournament committee member Hank Smith said, “but at the same time we do get complaints from players about sandbagging and slow play, and so when we meet with the pros as a committee to address this, we’re going to come up with ideas.
“This is about raising money for charity and having fun. We just expect the players to follow the rules, turn in an accurate handicap and keep up the pace of play. If we can do those three things, then there aren’t going to be any issues.”
Suspected sandbaggers, players claiming a higher handicap than their actual skill level, will be monitored closely — from both inside and outside of their playing group. Teams whose score draws a red flag may get elevated a flight. Those deemed guilty of more egregious violations will not be asked back.
Under Classic rules, handicap strokes can take a player only to par. Players get their full handicaps in the best-ball format at Anniston CC and half-handicaps in the modified scramble at Cider Ridge. No strokes are given in the scramble at Pine Hill. Teams are flighted based on the lowest attested handicap of their two players.
“We feel like for the most part the golfers are being genuine with their handicaps,” Smith said. “We have a lot of golfers and a lot of teams and there are going to be some hot teams every year, but it’s pretty clear when a team is sandbagging and we’ll call them out on it.”
“It’s for charity,” immediate past chairman Keith Howell said. “People ought to sit back and have a good time and stop trying to cheat. Everybody else is trying to have a good time.”
Pace of play also will be monitored and penalties may be assessed for slow play. Organizers are particularly concerned with pace in Sunday’s round at ACC, where the top players are contending for the overall title and typically the round is disrupted by weather that in recent years has the event finishing in the dark. A time par will be established for each group and manpower will be positioned at holes 3, 4, 6 and 7 — locations of the biggest bottlenecks — to help keep play moving.
“It says on the entry form for slow play we might penalize you; we might have to do that,” Howell said. “We’ll be checking you out.”
In that same vain, organizers will be limiting spectator carts for the Sunday round at ACC. It’s not to discourage galleries, just the criss-crossing cart traffic as spectators race to stay on top of what not doubt will be a fast-changing leaderboard. There are plenty of vantage points for the final four holes on the clubhouse patio, organizers said.
“We’re trying to keep as many non-playing people off the course as we possibly can so the ones who are playing can finish in a reasonable time,” Howell said.
Perhaps the most notable physical change for the event — outside of the move to Pine Hill from tornado-ravaged Silver Lakes — is the return of the normal-sized cup on No. 18 at Anniston Country Club.
For several years, in an attempt to inject a little fun into the finish, organizers cut an oversized cup into the finishing hole. They re-cut a regulation cup at the conclusion of Sunday’s round for the $25,000 putt.
But that process also is time-consuming and, after last year’s tournament, it took nearly six months for the green to grow back in, so organizers decided to scrap it.
The tournament can accommodate a field of just over 200 teams. Organizers said they haven’t noticed any drop-off in entries due to the late change in venues, and, in fact, praised the effort Pine Hill officials have given to get their facility ready for the event. Through Monday, approximately 30 spots remained available.
“Since 2008 it’s been a challenge for us with the economy the way it’s been the last few years, but the community is stepping up again and reaffirming its commitment to the tournament,” Smith said. “We anticipate at this point getting close to filling it up, if not filling it up, and getting to the $100,000 (in charitable contributions) we shoot for every year.
“We always get a flurry (of entries) the last couple weeks and we don’t think anything will be different this year.”
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.