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First on the Tee

First On The Tee: Can We Get Some Yardage Markers Out There?

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A forgotten 150-yard marker in the 12th fairway at Quicksilver Golf Club. (Photo: MATT GAJTKA/PGN)

ELLWOOD CITY, Pa. — You really don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure of playing a few rounds at Connoquenessing Country Club, on invitation from my brother’s father-in-law. But I can’t say I’ve appreciated this particular layout more than I did last Thursday.

Having popped a drive a little left on the par-5 second, I went for a short walk to find the nearest sprinkler head with a yardage. With a tree branch overhead to negotiate, I was trying to figure out how far I could punch down the fairway without bringing greenside bunkers into play.

Before you stop me, no, I don’t carry a rangefinder.

Basically because I haven’t been able to justify the cost to this point. Sports media work isn’t usually very lucrative, contrary to popular belief, and I’ve almost always been able to pace my way to a yardage until the past year or two.

That’s when the proliferation of such personal yardage devices and GPS-equipped carts has apparently pushed courses and clubs to significantly reduce the number of fairway markers. At least, that’s been my observation as a stubborn devotée of carrying my bag since my teenage years.

Now, I can’t imagine these stakes or plates — usually blue for 200 yards, white for 150 and red for 100 — cost much at all to maintain, so I don’t understand the rush to mothball them. I’ve played at several courses this year, and only two have featured markers at 200, 150 and 100.

To my pleasant surprise, Connoquenessing wasn’t just part of that elite group, it went one better. As I meandered toward the nearest marker on No. 2, I saw the rarest of sights: A 250-yard plate!

That’s a real albatross, and I’m not talking about another word for a double eagle.

I have little doubt at some point I’ll get my paws on a rangefinder, whether I buy it new or it’s passed on to me from my golf-loving in-laws. That’s not the point, though. I should be able to play golf and have a decent idea of the distance to the pin without needing to invest hundreds of dollars on top of whatever I’ve paid for my equipment, trips to the driving range and greens fees.

It’s the assumption that I do have a rangefinder — or that I want to ride a cart — that bothers me more than the inconvenience of triangulating the parameters of my approach shot.

Golf already has a problem with accessibility, especially in this country. There’s no reason this shouldn’t be a true sport of the people, but as I mentioned above, there are enough costs associated with playing golf. Let’s not add one more.

Ironic that it was a country club that was most friendly to the everyman approach to the game. I’m not normally one to say the old ways are best, but chalk one up for tradition in this case.

Mark Gajtka, brother of the editor, replaces a divot on No. 9 tee at Connoquenessing Country Club. (Photo: MATT GAJTKA/PGN)

SPLITTING THE FAIRWAY

• First of all, let Pittsburgh Golf Now wish all the dads (and granddads and great-granddads) out there a belated happy Father’s Day!

Felt a little strange for there not to be a U.S. Open wrapping up as we celebrated, but the Gajtkas found a way to sneak some golf into the day — hitting half-wedges across a local softball field. All divots were small and made in foul territory.

• Big week for local amateur competition, headlined by the two qualifiers for the Western Pennsylvania Amateur. The first of these 18-hole events takes place today at Meadville Country Club, with Lower Burrell’s Hill Crest Country Club hosting the second Thursday.

Your humble editor is taking part in the Thursday qualifier. Well wishes are appreciated! First time for me in this particular WPGA event. Hoping last year’s experience in the WPGA Mid-Am gives me a little mental armor this time around.

The WPGA Amateur itself takes place July 6-7 at Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley.

• Fresh off a three-event week, including the Tri-State PGA Junior Championship, the Isaly’s Junior Tour has another three tourneys on deck this week.

The gauntlet starts Tuesday at Shannopin Country Club in Ben Avon Heights, Latrobe’s Glengarry Golf Links on Wednesday and South Hills CC on Thursday. It’s early, but here’s the 2020 Player of the Year leaderboard.

• Also on the docket this week: Saturday’s City Amateur at stately Bob O’Connor Golf Course in Schenley Park. I spoke to head pro Eric Kulinna for a feature that you’ll see this week, but I promised to do my part to spread the word.

Here’s the pitch: It’s just $40 to enter the gross stroke play championship event and $25 to enter the other flights … and lunch is provided afterward. I’m considering playing in this one as well. Here’s the full info page from the Bob’s website.

• Happy to announce that the City Am will be the first tournament that PGN will cover live! Zac Weiss will report from the Bob, while Mike Darnay will be snapping away behind the camera.

• Something new: Zac and I chatted about four golf topics in our first PGN Par 4 video, coming to you from the first tee at the Bob on Monday morning.

• There are a couple more deadlines this Wednesday for WPGA events: The Mixed Team Better Ball at Valley Brook Country Club and the Women’s Senior Championships at Wildwood CC. Sign up here.

• Over on the PGA Tour, the second week post-quarantine wasn’t as much of a success in terms of health — Texas native Nick Watney tested positive for COVID-19 and withdrew Friday — but the actual golf remained scintillating in terms of scoring.

Webb Simpson shot a 5-under 30 on the back nine at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, setting an RBC Heritage tourney record with a 22-under total. Simpson beat Mexico’s Abraham Ancer by one to move into first place in the FedEx Cup standings.

Eerie to watch a handful of guys tear up the course down the stretch with essentially no crowd noise. Only the folks who own homes adjacent to Harbor Town Golf Links could cheer on a finish that at one point on the back nine featured a four-way tie for the lead.

It was a complete sprint to the end after a weather delay, as 11 of the top 13 finishers shot 5-under or better Sunday. England’s Tyrrell Hatton and last week’s winner Daniel Berger ended up two back at 20-under. Most weeks, that’s good enough.

The world’s best are heading north now, taking on the Travelers Championship in suburban Hartford, Connecticut.

• Don’t know about you, but when I think of Father’s Day and golf, I think of that incredible scene 21 years ago on the 18th green at Pinehurst, just after Payne Stewart sunk the U.S. Open-winning putt to edge Phil Mickelson.

If you’re not a great lip-reader, Stewart tells Mickelson from two inches away, “You’re going to love being a father!” Phil had memorably been carrying a pager that week in case his wife Amy went into labor.

Especially considering that was Stewart’s final victory before dying in a plane crash that fall, it’s such an indelible image for me.

• Another week down on the rebooted Korn Ferry Tour, which played its second consecutive week in northern Florida. At the King & Bear Golf Course in St. Augustine, Chris Kirk picked up his first victory in five years.

Kirk took personal leave from the PGA Tour last year to deal with depression and alcoholism, so bravo to Chris. Here’s a wonderful feature from PGATour.com’s Helen Ross on the 35-year-old Tennessean and his difficult journey back.

• Coming up later this week on PGN … our second course review, featuring breathtaking video from Darnay and some first-class participation from a club pro. I have a feeling you’ll enjoy the presentation.

Hit ’em straight!

A 15-year veteran of sports media, Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) is the founding editor of PGN. Matt is a lifelong golfer with a passion for all aspects of the sport, from technique to courses to competition. His experience ranges from reporting on Pittsburgh's major-league beats, to broadcasting a variety of sports, to public relations, multimedia production and social media.

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