College Golf and the Amateur Ideal

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This weekend the Ivy League Golf Championships, Men’s and Women’s, will be contested at Baltusrol Golf Club. This event exemplifies the amateur ideal and is one of my favorite sporting events to attend, which I have done many times in recent years. On this occasion I want to look back at last year’s event, where, at the ceremonial dinner, the celebrated amateur golfer Fred Ridley spoke to the student-athletes about appreciating what they had learned from their experiences as competitive amateur golfers and applying those values and habits of character in the personal and professional lives ahead of them.

The 2013 Men’s Championship was held at Caves Valley Golf Club, in Maryland. The Chairman of the club, Steve Fader, welcomed the participants with the following thoughtful remarks:

“We have been looking forward to the Ivy League Championship with great anticipation and excitement as this event represents many of the ideals that the Club prides itself in upholding, those of sportsmanship, camaraderie and love of the game.

I understand the importance of this tournament as my son played on Yale’s team and competed in several of these championships. It is special because many of you know each other very well from Ivy League and other amateur competition over the years and I know how much you like and admire one another…. notwithstanding wanting to beat the pants off of each other . . . .

This tournament is also special because it represents the culmination of the year’s work and perhaps the end of a career.

 Making it particularly challenging is that it comes as you are preparing for final exams. Through my son’s experience, I know first-hand of both the stress and excitement as you prepare to start the competition.

Each of you is a true student athlete, as I know you packed your book bags for this trip as well as your golf bags. Anyone who has watched you compete over single day 36-hole events in 40 degree temperatures and a bone chilling 20 mile per hour wind, while all the while carrying your own bag, eating lunch standing up at the turn, then immediately starting in on your next 18, cannot help but appreciate the outstanding athleticism, determination and mental toughness that it takes to compete at this level. And you do it simply for your team and the love of the game.

You are, in essence, the embodiment of what is referred  to  as  the  “amateur   ideal”  .  .  .  a  term  coined  in  the  1920’s,  and  used  by David  Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, in his essay titled “The  Amateur  Ideal”.

Brooks said that the amateur ideal is a moral and cultural guide to an athlete’s conduct “that emphasizes fair play and honor.”

Caves is a place that, more than any other body that I have been a part of, upholds and fosters what I think of as a “modern”  amateur ideal. We’ve created a place founded on assembling people with diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and heritages to share in the common foundation of this great sport, the love of the camaraderie that the sport fosters and for the ability to participate in fair competition regardless of skill level.

Your presence here tonight says that you are successful, intelligent, hard-working and competitive. You are applying those traits here for the simple reward of a pat on the back from a teammate for a good score posted, or the friendly nod from a member of another team for a shot well played. This is what amateur golf is about and we are proud and energized to support it in this form……. It seems to be a perfect match of participants and venue.

I hope that as you grow older, you will find that participating in golf related institutions, like membership in a golf club, perhaps even here at Caves Valley, or participation with other institutions such as the USGA or charitable foundations such as the First Tee program, will bring you back to your college experience and the amateur ideal in some small way.

Our guest speaker tonight can certainly attest to that. He is a wonderful example of the amateur ideal. More on this after dinner, but he was a solid college golfer at a fine school who blossomed into one of the great amateurs after college, who then built a very successful professional career . . . in law . . . not golf, but all the while maintaining an important presence in the game . . . and a balance in life.

He, and people like him – and hopefully people like each of you who give back to the game – form the backbone of the great golf institutions of the amateur world. It is in this spirit that we proudly welcome each of you to Caves Valley.”

The guest of honor was Fred Ridley, who was one of the most successful modern day amateur golfers and an exemplar of the amateur ideal. He holds the distinction of being the last U.S. Amateur champion to have never become a professional golfer. He won the Amateur in 1975, competed in ten U.S. Amateurs, was a member of the U.S. World Amateur team in 1976, and the U.S. Walker Cup team in 1977. He won the Monroe Invitational, a top amateur event, in 1976. He was captain of the U.S. Walker Cup teams in 1987 and 1989, and also of the U.S. World Amateur team in 2010. He competed in the Masters three times, the U.S. Open once, the British Open in 1976, and the British Amateur in 1977 and 1987, all as an amateur.

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Ridley has been deeply involved in the leadership of the USGA, serving as president, treasurer, vice president, the chairman of the USGA’s Championship Committee, Amateur Status and Conduct Committee, and International Team Selection Committee. Ridley is a member of Augusta National Golf Club and served as the competition committee chairman for The Masters and was responsible for handling the controversial rule infraction of Tiger Woods at the Masters just a couple weeks prior to the talk he gave at the Ivy Championship.

As someone who was successful in youth sports and in the amateur ranks, yet decided not to pursue a career as a professional golfer, Ridley was someone these student-athletes could identify with. It is very rare for an Ivy League player to turn pro.

The Ivy League website reports the following: “Ivy League student-athletes annually compile the country’s best marks in the NCAA’s Academic Performance Ratings and Graduation Success Rates under the Ivy League model of athletics as a key part of the student’s regular undergraduate experience. Ivy student-athletes grow from their athletics experiences to become national and community leaders across the spectrum of 21st century life in business and technology, law and government, medicine and research, and professional sports and entertainment.”

These student-athletes are not using their college athletic experience as a springboard to go pro. The men and women who decide to play at the Ivy schools are thereby committing to integrating athletics and academics toward preparing themselves for successful professional careers. While keeping an eye on that overall goal they take on the added burdens associated with taking their sport seriously. Most days and most weekends are filled with practice, workouts, travel, and competitions that necessarily limit their time to study and socialize.

Yet, despite all this and fully aware these sacrifices aren’t leading to the “payoff” of a pro career, they find it worth it for all they gain from playing sports competitively. Here are some of the benefits I have heard them say they appreciate about playing golf at this level.

They develop and strengthen their discipline, perseverance, and fortitude, all associated with regular game-improvement practice sessions, competing in high-pressure situations, bouncing back from disappointments, playing and practicing in inclement conditions.

Balance and time management, having to learn how to make time for all the demands of the sport, and school, and sleep, and a social life.

Camaraderie and being a good team player that is encouraged by spending most of their time with their teammates and coaches; living, traveling, and eating with them; and supporting their teammates in failure and triumph. Golf can be an individual pursuit, but college golf is a team sport.

Competition: developing a healthy competitive attitude, competing against their teammates (for a spot in the line up), other teams, and Old Man Par.

Sportsmanship: Golf is a game of honor wherever it is played, and all the world benefits when that influence follows golfers off the course. In my mind the honor code of golf reinforces the honor code that governs these students’ academic attitudes. While the latter may be under pressure, perhaps particularly at the most competitive schools, reports of dishonorable conduct at the Ivy League golf tournaments are almost unheard of.

Fun and friends – highly competitive  schools sometimes get a bad rap for pressuring the fun out of college. These student-athletes, for all the added burdens of their involvement in sports, are having a great time and making lifelong friends.

These qualities come from doing things right, and playing hard, fair and honorably. The lifelong benefits, to them and society, are obvious.

Below: Ivy League Champions: Columbia (2010) and Yale (1929)

images-2                      Yale Golf team 1929

 

 

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