GSGA: Generously Serving Georgia
Bob Hope once said that if you watch a game, it is fun, and if you play it, it is recreation. But if you work at it – then it is golf. In Georgia, one organization not only works to promote and preserve golf’s glorious tradition in the state, but also strives to enhance the enjoyment for all that watch it, play it, and work at it too.
In 1916, a group of golfers in Georgia came together to establish what would become the state’s first amateur championship, a tournament that ultimately took place at Capital City Club in Atlanta. By the end of the tournament, a 14 year-old prodigy from Atlanta emerged as the champion; his name was Bobby Jones. Jones, of course, went on to become one of the sport’s greatest players. As an adult, he preferred to maintain his career as an attorney, only competing in his spare time and only at the amateur level, yet he was the only golfer to win the Grand Slam of his era, that’s all four major championships, in the same year. He was also the driving force behind the development and design of Augusta National Golf Club where he later founded The Masters, a tournament which ultimately became one of the four major championship events in golf. As for that group of golfers that created Georgia’s first amateur championship, they went on to form the Georgia State Golf Association, which today, is recognized as one of the largest and most dynamic of state-affiliated golf associations in America. Incorporated in 1924, the GSGA was initially managed by a dedicated group of volunteers, but as it expanded services, grew its membership and increasingly sanctioned tournaments, it became necessary to appoint full-time staff to help manage operations. Today, in addition to facilitating two dozen state and interstate competitions, the GSGA provides oversight of the handicapping system to which players adhere, provides ratings and measuring of member golf courses, offers advocacy and education through a variety of initiatives, events and communications through newsletters and publications such as the award-winning Golf Georgia Magazine, but that’s just for starters. The GSGA additionally manages Georgia’s Golf Hall of Fame, beneficially impacts lives through scholarships awarded from its development of a charitable foundation, yet it has also helped beneficially impact everyone in Georgia, whether they golf or not. To explain that requires understanding of the economic impact realized from golf in Georgia, which according to a 2010 study, annually amounts to more than $2.4 billion.
As GSGA President Chuck Palmer says, “Golf in Georgia has a huge economic impact, perhaps more so than any other state. I think everyone here appreciates golf’s importance, not only to our economy, but in terms of positioning our state on an international stage, after all, we’re home of both The Masters and the Tournament Championship … we have the bookends of the PGA season played here in Georgia.”
Palmer says it is almost unbelievable to consider all that has taken place since the staging of that first amateur championship in 1916. “For the founders, it would be hard for them to envision what’s happened over the last hundred years … from the incorporation of technology to the handicap system and the range of opportunities that exist for golfers today. There was a time you could only play at a handful of private clubs, but now we have a ton of both private and public courses … there’s been a transformation of the game as well as our association along the way,” says Palmer.
Supporting Golf & Golfers
GSGA Executive Director Martha Kirouac says the association is solely dedicated to serving the game of golf as well as the 350 different clubs which comprises its membership, a composite that ultimately equates to more than 75,000 golfers. “The work of the association covers a lot of bases,” says Kirouac. “As a service organization, we provide handicapping, course ratings and education to 350 member clubs, but we also focus on the individual golfer at those clubs through services of our rules and competition division as well as through our publications and programs.”
The GSGA relies on the Golf Handicap and Information Network (GHIN) for its handicap services which are administered in accordance with the USGA Handicap System. Individuals receive handicap revisions twice per month through transmission to Member Clubs or via e-mail for those who take advantage of the GSGA’s eRevision service. The GHIN service package also provides software for tournament administration, rules of golf decisions and information for golf professionals as well as course managers and club officials. As part of its service to Member Clubs, GSGA has provided computer hardware and essential technical support to all clubs that have at least 100 members.
More recently, the GSGA has enhanced its website (www.gsga.org) to not only offer impart the range of golf information and insight on Association activities, but to serve as a useful resource for members to take full advantage of their membership benefits. “The website has become truly interactive,” says GSGA Communications Director Jason Taylor. “For the first time, members can now log-on, create their own profile and register for competitions or check their USGA handicap index,” he says. Golfers can also research golf courses in Georgia or find links to other golf organizations on the local, state and national levels.
And when joining the GSGA, each member course in the state is laser-measured (and again whenever major changes are made). The course is rated every 5-7 years by a trained team of raters who adhere to the USGA Course Rating and Slope Rating System. Ratings are issued for all sets of tees in play for both men and women at each course. There is no charge for these services as they are included as part of membership dues which are based upon a club’s total number of golf members (currently an annual individual rate of $25.
There are other significant services that the GSGA has fulfilled over the years, such as supporting research of turfgrass as far back as 1959. In more recent years, when Atlanta was plagued by drought conditions and the golfing industry was put under scrutiny for water usage, the GSGA banded with other golf associations to provide awareness of the water-conserving, sustainability practices that course operators have traditionally embraced, in fact, many were being “green” before green ever crept into the social conscious through the advancing of reclaimed water irrigation systems and other conservation strategies. The practices of course managers and superintendents in Georgia have become environmental stewardship models adopted by many states, and the GSGA has been critical in driving awareness and appreciation of those practices.
At the same time, the GSGA helps drive awareness and appreciation of the unique legacy and incredible legends of golf in Georgia through its managing of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame. Since 2010, through an arrangement with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, GSGA has managed the ongoing activities associated with the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame which includes hosting the banquet to honor inductees and maintaining the memorabilia and displays within the facility which is appropriately situated in Augusta. A number of Georgia Hall of Fame inductees have also been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, and here’s a fun fact, all four major international golf competitions (the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Walker Cup, and Curtis Cup) have had (or will have) captains who are members of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame. Executive Director Kirouac won the Curtis Cup in 2004.
Kirouac says volunteers of the GSGA add to golf’s glamour in Georgia, with hundreds routinely dedicating time to volunteer as tournaments played throughout the year or offering insight and expertise through service on boards of other golf-related organizations (including more than 40 committees affiliated with the United States Golf Association). “It would be impossible for us to sponsor so many tournaments and provide the range of services we offer without the support of our volunteers,” says Kirouac.
While the GSGA supports golf education through a variety of training programs, workshops and member communications, it has gone beyond providing insight on the industry by providing educational assistance to individuals through the awarding of scholarships. The GSGA Foundation (the GSGA’s charitable affiliate) uses contributions from individuals, corporations and the Association to provide scholarships. Unlike some programs which solely base awards on player performance, Kirouac says any employee of a member club is eligible to receive a scholarship. The GSGA Foundation has the Yates Scholarships (for employees or dependents of employees at any GSGA Member Clubs) and the Moncrief Scholarships (for agronomy and turfgrass management students at the University of Georgia and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College). Quite often, Kirouac says scholarships have been awarded to non-traditional student; those not fresh out of high school, but working adults striving to further educational goals for greater professional opportunities.
Long before Chuck Palmer became GSGA President (or one of Atlanta’s top lawyers specializing in state economic development activities as well as corporate relocation projects), he was an avid golfer who worked for a time as a golf course superintendent. He was actually the recipient of a scholarship from the GSGA who went on to study turf management at the University of Georgia, before resolving to go into law. While that experience augments his appreciations for the work of the GSGA, Palmer’s professional experiences in working with a range of leading industry executive affords him special insight as to the value of golf in Georgia. “I’ve met so many executives that are golfers here in Georgia, and golf is one of the reasons why they’re here, its why other want to come here… its why we have leading golf manufacturers that operate here … it is easy to see how it ties into the strength of our economy,” says Palmer. He also notes that part of Georgia’s appeal today among golfers is also a byproduct of the respect for Augusta National Golf Club and Bobby Jones “as a gentleman, a lawyer and a corporate icon.”
As Palmer says, “The fact that he built Augusta National Golf Club and created The Masters isn’t lost on anybody … he added to the image of golf in Georgia and one of the reasons we’re so highly regarded is our association with him, because he won our first championship.” It is this very foundation of respect on which the GSGA has constructed a range of modern services, volunteer support, industry advocacy and charitable good works which make golf interactions far better than par as a recreation, as a sport and as an economic driver in a state whose legacy in golf grows greater each year.
For Online information involving the programs and services supported by the Georgia State Golf Association, visit their website as www.gsga.org. For Online information on the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, visit www.gghof.com.