2002: Cyber tempest over GCSAA board’s Ryder Cup trip

By Michael A. Boslet

It hardly compares with the executive excess making headlines today, but travel perks provided to four board officers of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America have sparked a cyber protest among the group’s membership.

The reason for the outrage? The board officers – and their spouses or companions – attended the Ryder Cup in Sutton Coldfield, England, with major expenses paid for by the association.

The board’s actions clearly agitated some members – especially since the travel coincided with the GCSAA’s proposed 20 percent increase in membership dues.

All four board officers confirmed their expensed trips, and some said they were stunned by the allegations of opulent spending. The officers, who work as volunteers, say they use such business travel primarily as an opportunity to promote the association. On this trip, they met with major donors to the GCSAA Foundation, such as Jaime Ortiz-Patino, president and owner of Valderrama Golf Club in Spain, and Michael Smurfit, owner of The K Club in Ireland, host site of the 2006 Ryder Cup.

Sparking the outcry was a missive posted Sept. 25 on the association’s Web site by Don Mahaffey, a GCSAA member. Under the heading “Ryder Cup Travel,” he wrote in part:

“. . . At a time when many courses are struggling and we are raising our dues, is it really necessary to send an entourage to represent us?”

Soon after, the site’s “Forum” section took on the atmosphere of a grass-roots revolt against city hall. E-mails from superintendents in Australia, Nevada, Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, California, South Carolina, China and Missouri, for example, poured in. Some offered more criticism; others took issue with the complaints.

Steve Mona, the association’s CEO, said it has been standard practice to permit expenses for companions to travel with board members on three to four occasions a year. Officials said they likely will not provide a breakdown of expenses, but added no first-class tickets were purchased. And while lodging cost about $150 a night, they said many meals were provided by host organizations.

Though such business trips don’t always yield a measurable return on investment, they are invaluable to the association and its mission, said Mike Wallace, the board president who made the trip.

“You cannot raise the image of the association by not being present,” he said.

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