California golf associations duke it out

Respective logos of the Southern California Golf Association and California State Golf Association.

It is rare that the authority of any golf association is contested or challenged, but the 110-year-old Southern California Golf Association suddenly finds itself with a rival called the California State Golf Association.

The formation of the non-profit CSGA was announced statewide Sept. 21, catching many golf clubs and golfers by surprise. Although the ultimate goal of the CSGA is to enlist golf clubs throughout the state, initially it is focusing on southern California, according to Dan Hon, one of the group’s founders.

The SCGA is one of the largest, most highly regarded golf associations in the country. For more than a century, it has worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. Golf Association. The SCGA handles all USGA course rating in southern California. In 2009, the SCGA conducted 32 USGA qualifying events in addition to 21 SCGA championships of its own.

The association has 155,000 members, all men (women in southern California play under the banner of the Women’s Southern California Golf Association).

Several prominent factors are apparent in the formation of the CSGA:

• Ray Tippet, a 23-year employee of the SCGA and its former assistant executive director, has been prominent in the formation of the CSGA and has been named its executive director.

• A handicap provider, Integrated Data Co., has been active in the creation of the CSGA. One of the functions of most golf associations is to provide handicaps for its members, and the CSGA will obtain these from IDC. The SCGA used IDC for its handicaps until deciding to switch to the USGA GHIN system for 2010.

• The CSGA will attempt to undercut the prices charged by the SCGA. Several different membership levels exist in most golf associations, but the normal SCGA rate is about $30 per individual golfer (this includes many different services). The CSGA individual rate has been announced at about $17.

• So-called clubs without real estate, composed of golfers who band together for competition, handicaps and camaraderie while playing at different golf clubs, are a focus of the CSGA. So are women, with the CSGA attempting to enlist them as well as men.

The SCGA has about 1,200 member clubs, and almost 800 of them are clubs without real estate.

To play in any of the 21 SCGA championships, a golfer must be a member of the SCGA. This is accomplished by joining one of the 1,200 SCGA member clubs. These clubs enroll all their golfers in SCGA membership.

The CSGA, on the other hand, has indicated it will open at least some of its championships to golfers outside the association.

“The truth is that less than one percent (of golfers who join associations) participate in association tournaments,” Tippet said. “We intend to provide fresh and relevant services to all golfers. The downturn in the economy has had its effect on golf, and we believe we can help our member clubs and all the golfers for a lower price.”

The SCGA is not sitting quietly while all this is unfolding. Kevin Heaney, SCGA executive director, and Kent Keller, SCGA president, quickly sent emails to SCGA members, outlining programs, services and various enhancements provided by the SCGA.

In a separate interview, Heaney was forthright about the SCGA’s new rival.

“Their handicap vendor is one we have used for a number of years, and they decided to get together,” Heaney said. “They’re touting themselves as unique, but, quite honestly, they are trying to do a lot of the same things we’re doing.

“As an organization, we took a lot of time, brought in a facilitator, and figured out how we could improve our service to our clubs and all the golfers who are member of those clubs. The individual who started this (Tippet) was privy to this and sat in on the discussions.”

Heaney talked at length about “value added” services for clubs and golfers. He talked about the long SCGA history and the association’s ability to relate effectively with its members.

“Look at our foundation,” Heaney said. “We are concerned about the future of golf. We are really trying to improve the ability of youth in southern California to learn the game and use the game as a tool for improving their left skills and their education. We have created great opportunities for kids. They can play at a very reasonable rate. We help subsidize that. We are providing (college) scholarships, and we provide grants for youth service groups.”

In 2009, the SCGA will subsidize about 10,000 rounds of golf and 16,000 buckets of balls for junior golfers. It will award about $45,000 in scholarships. In its history, the SCGA has given more than $565,000 in grants to youth service organizations.

Hon said the CSGA is determined to “use creative new approaches to do everything possible to benefit the clubs and the individual golfers,” and Tippet added the CSGA will “listen to the golf course facilities and try to help our clubs that are having financial difficulties by partnering up with financial institutions.”

Tippet stressed the CSGA board of directors “is very diverse in nature, with both men and women, and we think this is really important. It’s reflective of who’s out there playing today.”

Heaney, referring to a SCGA legacy that dates back to 1899, said the association “will continue to utilize all its resources and all its experience to guide and expand the game of golf. There are some real challenges out there, and we feel we have the people and the knowledge to address all these challenges.”

The fate of the fledgling CSGA appears to hinge on how many SCGA member clubs side with Heaney and how many entertain the notion of switching to the rival association. Because the two associations offer competing handicap computations, joining both would be a duplication of services.

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