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NICHOLS EMBROILED IN CONTROVERSY OVER TOURNEY

The Buffalo District Golf Association finds itself with another controversy after withdrawing its sanction of last Sunday's Champion of Champions tournament at East Aurora Country Club.

Whitey Nichols, the BDGA's executive director, said he had unanimous approval of the board of directors in withdrawing the sanction, which means the Champion of Champions is no longer a tournament that counts toward the association's points standings.

One local player, Chris Drongosky of Audubon, is threatening legal action against the BDGA because of its decision. Drongosky said he plans to seek an injunction prohibiting the BDGA from conducting its upcoming match-play event because he was deprived of the C of C points that would have enabled him to qualify. Players were scheduled to receive a minimum of 40 points for playing in the C of C.

The decision to revoke the sanction was made after East Aurora attempted to narrow the scope of the tournament. In the past, the event had been open to "non-real estate affiliates" of the district. Those groups, which include the Hatch Golf Club, Delaware National and East Park Golf Club, pay dues but play out of no single course. East Aurora initially took the position this year that players participating in the C of C should be true course champions.

That decision angered Nichols, who said he would push to have the sanction revoked. Frank Broderick, East Aurora's club champion and the informal organizer of the C of C, said that course offered to make peace by leaving this year's tournament an open event and revisiting the guidelines during the offseason. But the sanction was withdrawn and a letter was faxed to member clubs informing them the C of C was no longer a points tournament.

I've been a member at East Aurora for 10 years. I play no part in the C of C. I am an avid follower of area golf. Here's my take on the situation:

Nichols said that East Aurora was attempting to enforce an exclusionary policy. Truth is, many BDGA events are exclusionary by nature. A good number of sanctioned tournaments are by invitation only, which is participation by selection. For instance, Broderick, despite being a top-15 player for years, never has been invited to the Ahern Cup at Wanakah, which is a points tournament.

To attain enough points to rank in the top 10 -- the reward being an exemption into the district's individual championship -- a golfer probably will spend close to $1,000 in entry fees. That cost, unable to be borne by all, is exclusionary.

Nichols argues that while some tournaments exclude individuals, East Aurora was attempting to exclude groups. He said that all dues-paying clubs should be invited to a tournament that bills itself as the Champion of Champions. It's an argument of convenience. For instance, a golfer must have a maximum handicap of 10 to participate in the qualifier for the district championship. If a non-real estate group has no golfers who meet that standard, then is not that group being excluded?

There are racial undercurrents running through this controversy. East Aurora has tacitly been accused of excluding these groups because many have minority members. East Aurora has no African-American members that I'm aware of. I inquired about that once and was told none had ever applied. The club has, in recent years, created gender-equity memberships that provide women with full playing rights. It has hosted the International Junior Masters for more than 50 years and routinely invites Japanese, Mexican and Latin American golfers.

If it intended to restructure the qualifying conditions, East Aurora should have explained its reasons to the BDGA board during the offseason. Since it invited non-real estate champions in the past, those clubs assumed they once again could send a representative to the C of C. East Aurora's timing was poor.

The solutions:

The current structure invites the absurd. Nichols insists that any group meeting the minimum size requirement (which is easily attainable) and paying dues should qualify for the C of C. He would defend the right of a group of hackers unable to break 120 to send their "champion" to the C of C.

Members at East Aurora are sacrificing their course for part of a Sunday -- no small gift considering their five-day June commitment to the Junior Masters -- because this tournament was intended as a competition for the area's better players. There should be a minimum competency requirement for admission to the field.

East Aurora should continue to invite non-real estate groups to the C of C so long as a group's champion meets the same requirements used in the district qualifier -- a maximum handicap of 10. That way, the tournament would remain open to players who elect to remain unaffiliated with a particular course while maintaining the integrity of the C of C.

Hume on a 60s binge

Tim Hume, the area's best amateur, is playing to a standard that makes him untouchable. He shot 66 in the middle round of the club championship at Cherry Hill. He shot rounds of 68-67-66 in the club championship at Park. He fired a 6-under 65 to run away with the Champion of Champions tournament at East Aurora.

"Usually you have a couple good rounds," Hume said. "I just keep going lower."

Hume says he hasn't played this well in 10 years. He attributes his scoring binge to improved putting.

"I'm spending more time on the putting green and I've changed my setup," Hume said. "I got a tip from Bobby Rosen (at the districts). Taking the putter away low and following through low is all I've been working on."

A keener focus also has come into play.

"You know how sometimes you stand there and hit it and then say, 'What was I thinking?' I'm not hitting it now until I'm ready to hit it. At the Porter Cup and the district, I hit I don't know how many shots I wasn't ready to hit. My caddie said it was like my mind was out to lunch. Now I've been focusing, getting in the zone and hitting all good shots."

Hume won't be defending his title at the state mid-amateur later this month. Instead, he'll be one of three golfers representing New York at the USGA Team event Sept. 23-25 at Hazeltine in Minnesota.

"It's tough not defending, but USGA events takes precedence," Hume said.
e-mail: rdicesare@buffnews.com

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