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Confessions of a Golf Snob

Admit it. When the Golf Digest course rankings come out each year, you look to see if you’ve played any of those courses and maybe how many. In my early years, my golf plans were dominated by that list as I pursued my dream of bringing bad golf to the best courses in the world. I gained a lot from that list as I found magical courses that I might have missed like Royal County Down in Northern Ireland (made even more special by Quinn’s Pub right down the road). I also found courses where my experience was different from the raters — “really you think this is one of the best golf courses?”

As I grew older but not necessarily more mature, I found myself playing a lot of courses that were not on the BEST lists, and I discovered I not only loved playing them, but found some hidden gems — not always the whole course but some amazingly super holes.

I recently played Butler Country Club, north of Pittsburgh, in a Member/Guest. I had played it years ago, but it was only now that I realized how terrific the course is. It’s not on any list because it doesn’t have a name designer or hasn’t hosted a big championship, but it’s easily on my list of best of Pennsylvania (in the Top 3 in terms of wild, fun and crazy members!).

For 24 years, I have taken 8 to 12 guys to either Ireland or Scotland on a golf trip. Last year, they asked are we going to Scotland or Ireland this year. I teased them by saying the venue for 2018 starts with “S.” Before they booked their flights to Edinburgh, I explained that the “S” in this case stood for Scranton, Pa. After some questions about my sanity, we rented a 10-bedroom house in Whitehaven, Pa., and played four A.W. Tillinghast courses (Fox Hill, Irem, Valley and Wyoming Valley) and the superb Huntsville. What we came to realize is that there is great golf and wonderful golf experiences beyond the highly touted and usually deserving ranked venues. Many of GAP’s 275 courses welcome unescorted guests or are public, semi-public venues. I encourage all of our members to broaden their golf experience by visiting some of these wonderful venues.

As long as we’re in the confessional, let’s confess to the gap that still exists between the private country club golfer and the daily-fee public golfer. Public golfers is how many of us started with golf. I remember playing the 9-hole course at the American Legion Post in Avondale, Ga., with my father in my early teens. Golf has never been better than that for me. We want the public golfer to see GAP as its partner in making golf more fun, accessible and affordable. To reflect the criticality of public golf for GAP, we have created a Public Golf Committee to identify and implement ways to have GAP better serve the public golfer.

One last confession. I play top shelf golf balls which I find go farther as I drive them into the woods given my pathetic game. My younger brother John makes fun of me for that snobbery since he’ll play whatever he can find in his bag or trunk. We were once playing golf at Hidden Creek Golf Club in a charity event when a player who had been paired with us noticed that John was playing a “ladies” ball. After receiving some fairly sharp teasing from this guy, John told him “it’s actually a good ball.” The guy replied sarcastically, “I’ll bet it is.” John then handed him his business card as USGA Managing Director of Equipment Standards and closed the interchange with “No, it really is a good ball!” Snobbery usually ends badly says a repenting snob.

In the 1990s, I spent considerable time in Australia. One of the great things about traveling to Australia was flying Qantas Airways (obviously a distant second to Aussie beer and barbie). Qantas, Australia’s flag carrier, is a superb airline. It is the third oldest airline in the world. Naturally, sharing a name starting with “Q,” at some point I asked why there was no “U’ in Qantas. I discovered that Qantas represents the letters for the Queensland and Northern Territories Aerial Services. The Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services over time recognized that the name didn’t reflect the broad and ever-expanding geographic reach of the airline, which served every Australian state. It was this very same problem that confronted GAP in 2018.

The Golf Association of Philadelphia has a great heritage as the nation’s oldest state or regional golf association, but Philadelphia doesn’t accurately describe the broad and ever-expanding geographic reach of our organization. GAP now covers all of Eastern Pennsylvania as well as outstanding clubs in New Jersey and Delaware. Recognizing this expanded footprint, we knew a rebranding of the Golf Association of Philadelphia should be considered. Naturally, like Qantas, we had an obvious alternative by using the letters of our organization’s name. The use of GAP became an obvious choice since most of our members have been calling their organization “GAP” for decades with the use of the letters and name tracing back to its 1897 beginning.

Our rebranding comes with a new, fresher and more descriptive logo (third in 122 years), which we hope our members find appealing. The name “Golf Association of Philadelphia” is not going away and will continue to be used, but we will lead with GAP as our organizational identity. Our new brand also comes with a completely overhauled website that is easier for our members to access and utilize. The new website will be more dynamic and user-friendly. It will contain more information on the benefits of GAP, which we hope our members will find valuable. It’s been a busy winter, but our members expect GAP to be better each and every year, and we remain committed to meeting and exceeding that expectation.

A prominent use of our brand is the BMW GAP Team Matches (GTM), which is covered in this issue. As the oldest and probably the largest team competition in the United States, the BMW GAP Team Matches, like blooming flowers, announces the beginning of the golf season and months of great experiences on the course to come. This year we regionalized some of the GTM to encourage more participation and to ensure our large geographic reach doesn’t discourage people from participating. (I had a recurring nightmare about members of Greate Bay [Country Club] and Tyoga [Country Club] getting up at 3 a.m. to make the 290-mile, five-hour drive to play each other). Again, we’re hoping to make the best team competition in the U.S. even better by making the BMW GAP Team Matches available to all Member Clubs regardless of their location.

This issue also focuses on some of the amazing practice facilities at GAP Members Clubs. As a golfer whose best shots are typically on the range, not on the course, I’m fascinated at what Member Clubs offer their golfers as a place to refine their game and to receive expert guidance from their club pro. The time and money that clubs are investing in upgrading their practice facilities are just one more indication of the health of our game. We have practice facilities at some of our Member Clubs that are only slightly smaller than Rhode Island. Regrettably, we were unable to locate a practice facility with a patch of woods where I could practice my punch-out shot.

Those of you who are film buffs undoubtedly remember Dustin Hoffman in the 1988 movie “Rain Man.” Hoffman, as an autistic savant, refuses to fly any airline other than Qantas because they’ve never had a fatal crash. In fact, one of Qantas’ closest calls came on Sept. 23, 1999 when a Qantas 747 overshot the runway in Bangkok, Thailand. There were no fatalities as the plane safely came to rest – where else – but on a golf course. Golf is everywhere, and I hope all of you find yourself on the golf course often this spring. Just not strapped in an airline seat.

T. Quinn Spitzer, Jr.