After perhaps the most serious discussion on the subject in years, tournament officials last week rejected the notion of giving players 65 and older a push to the front of the tee box.
So, when the 34th annual Classic gets underway with its strongest field ever Friday at Anniston Country Club, Cider Ridge Golf Club and Silver Lakes, all the male players in the 201-team field will be teeing off from the same set of tees.
“We gave it a lot of consideration,” tournament chairman Jimmy Flowers said. “It’d be hard to set up the courses; we try to set them up as equitable as possible. We don’t have blue tees (for the pro and scratch players in the field), therefore we don’t have senior tees.
“I’ve been involved in (similar tournaments) and there are traditionally two tees — white tees and a women’s tee. For the majority of the field and the (course) pros … it’s a lot less complicated. We did consider it and based on the lateness of the request (this year), we may consider it in future years, but the majority of the field plays from the white tees and feel it’s a lot fairer the way it is.”
The adjustment would only apply to players aged 65 and older, but according to a recently completed survey of Classic players by The Star, that only encompasses less than four percent of the field.
The older players say they need the bump to help them keep up with the younger players in their flight. That same survey indicated nearly 85 percent of the competitors are between the ages of 26 and 65.
Billy Grizzard, a 66-year-old Classic veteran from Oxford, called the disparity “very frustrating.” He plays in the tournament with Wayne Tillman, 61.
“With our high handicap and shortness off the tee, it makes it doubly difficult to play it at Silver Lakes,” he said. “That’s the toughest of the three (courses) as far as the length of it. It just kills us.
“The difference in scoring for us is our second shot being inside 150 (yards) as opposed to being outside 150. A 140-yard shot we can score, a (shot from) 170 we have trouble scoring. ... We don’t feel we’re competitive, even in the last flight, because Silver Lakes is in the mix. Last year, we were competitive at Pine Hill because of the difference in the distance.”
Anniston realtor Larry Howard, 66, said he was “aware” of the forward tee discussion and figured what was the harm in it. He recently bought a new driver advertised to produce more yardage to keep up.
“A thought or two went through my mind and then I thought, ‘why not?” he said. “We’ve lived this long, went through what we went through. The younger ones, more power to them. I was young once. But why not? It’s like opening the door for an older person; out of respect. They earned it, why not let them have it.”
If a player’s handicap is based off play from their home club’s forward tees, the idea might gain more traction, but some courses don’t have “senior” tees and those handicaps are established from a general members tee. The idea of using a modified handicap for the seniors playing it forward was debated, but was deemed too complicated to implement.
The only place handicaps come into play is in the best-ball round at Anniston Country Club, although players receive part of their handicap in the modified scramble round at Cider Ridge. They’re also used to establish a team’s flight.
It should be noted a course’s multiple tee offerings are designed to be handicap-appropriate, not age-appropriate. Courses like Silver Lakes make specific tee recommendations for the most enjoyable playing experience.
Another argument against the move is there are some senior-level players in the field still capable of playing high-quality golf from the regular tees — the courses are going to be set up short anyway — and putting them on a forward tee would create a huge advantage in the upper flights.
One option might be to allow the move in all flights but the two top flights — or create a completely senior flight and have players declare their flight preference and play to those specifications.
With the exception of the championship flight, which received a bump to its purse this year, all the flights have the same payout.
“It would give them an unfair advantage over the field,” said pairings chairman Keith Howell, who pushed the move’s consideration this year. “The pros already stated they would set the courses up to play as many skill levels as possible.
“I thought it would (be approved) this year, but the general consensus was to leave it alone. This is the way it’s always been done. That’s what was decided. We just left it alone.”
That doesn’t mean it’s a dead issue. Disappointed advocates scoff when the current young generation starts getting closer to the senior threshold they’ll be pushing for it.
“I’ve had somebody ask me about it every year since I’ve been involved,” Howell said, “so I think it will come up again.”
The field has been divided into six flights, all named for lines offered by title sponsor King Motor Co. — Ford Mustang (Championship 0-4 handicap, 37 teams); Acura RDX (5-7, 28 teams); Honda CRV (8-11, 37); Toyota 4Runner (12-15, 37); Ford Edge (16-18, 29) and Honda Accord (19-30, 33).
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.