(Editors note: This is a guest blog post by Rick Braithwaite who has written a number of short stories under the name of Golf Gumbo. He is considering compiling his stories into a book and we at ACES are thankful to Braithwaite for granting the rights to publish this story on member-guest tournaments! Having played in a few, this story really hit home!)
Tournaments at golf clubs are a longstanding and cherished tradition. They attract members, they raise funds for the club or local charities, and they provide opportunities for players to put trophies on their nearly empty trophy shelves.
One of the most common, and beloved, is the legendary member-guest tournament, where members invite the very best sand bagger they can find. These annual events are planned months in advance by the hosting club to ensure they have enough staff, practice balls and booze. The players also must plan ahead to ensure participation by their good friend, based upon availability, compatibility, and handicap index.
Usually broken into a number of flights, these round robin tournaments pit friends against friends and suspect handicaps against suspect handicaps. Play usually goes on for three days, but the first day usually reveals which teams are likely to prevail, and which ones are likely to drink more heavily.
Based upon the results of the five round robin matches, each flight winner is honored by playing against the other flight winners to determine the overall champion. Sometimes referred to as horse races (for no logical reason that I can discern), they all play the same hole at the same time, in an alternate shot format. Since you may have as many as 14 teams/balls in play, the first hole usually lasts far longer than the interest of the spectators.
Eventually, the field is winnowed down to the top two teams, who are exhausted after playing five matches in their flight, and several holes in the horse race. Never wanting to admit it, they soldier on for one more hole and the chance to give a short and slightly profane winner’s speech at the banquet that evening. Every shot counts, and play is usually excellent and tension is extremely high. Spectators are respectfully silent as the final putts are carefully lined up and yanked five feet beyond the hole. There are often crowd favorites at this point, so the chance of a well-timed cough or mumbled reference to the players sketchy ancestry can occur.
When the tournament if over, finally, the players head home to rest and prepare for an over-the-top banquet that evening. The kitchen staff have been hard at work opening cans, the wait staff has been busy affixing name tags to their shirts, and the pros have been wondering if these players will ever leave. It’s a tiring ending to an exhausting tournament, but chances are nearly every member who didn’t win has already planned which guest of the other players they will purloin next year.
By Rick Braithwaite