Golf continues to hold its own in terms of popularity among amateur players.
While the PGA, LPGA, European and LIV Tours continue to shatter records monthly in terms of heretofore unheard-of monetary purses and the Golf Channel is bringing most TOURS to the airwaves each week, amateur golf still has its place with the diehards of the links that are mostly looking for a fun round of golf and the camaraderie that it brings.
Going back to the 1930s, a number of annual local golf tournaments that mostly catered to the best players with low handicaps have garnered most of the press, including women’s and men’s events.
However, in 2003 the Roanoke Valley Senior Golf Tour was organized as a competitive venue for senior golfers, 55 and over, in the Roanoke Valley and surrounding areas. Currently, their season schedule consists of nine tournaments, hosted at courses in the Roanoke Valley, Lynchburg, Blacksburg, Botetourt, Floyd and the New River Valley. The scheduled courses typically change each year. And, the reception by area golfers has been exceptional.
Tommy Firebaugh, who has the distinction of being one of the lead administrators of the Senior Tour, talked about the Tour’s growth and success in an interview with The Star in late September.
Roanoke golfer Bill Houck has won twice in the 2022 Roanoke Valley Senior Golf Tour’s first eight tournaments, carrying a handicap in the twenties. (photos courtesy RVSGT).
“It’s been great to see this grow to where it is today,” Firebaugh noted. “Currently we have 121 players registered as members of the senior tour. One of the key reasons for its success, on top of the players themselves, has been our committee members who work tirelessly to put on all the things that go into a tournament that typically attracts 90-100 players in any given month. Getting courses lined up, fairly calculating handicaps for all competitors, pairing all the players on tournament day; it’s a lot of work. But I would describe our tour as a well-oiled machine. We have an exceptional website that lays out virtually every aspect of the Senior Tour, from rules to scoring to winners. Committee member Ken Kornegay gets the credit for creating all of that.”
“All the courses have been really accommodating to our group,” Firebaugh added. “We play on Mondays, so we’re filling up the course which normally wouldn’t be very busy. Plus, we give away gift certificates to their golf shop and our players buy items on their own. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
The Senior Tour is clearly designed to be fun and challenging to all golfers, regardless of their handicap or level of talent on the links. Tournaments are played from the Senior Tees (5,200-5,600 yards) and Forward Tees (4,500-4,800 yards), if qualified. Event handicaps are calculated for the specific course and tees, and the field is divided into three divisions to promote competition among players with similar handicaps.
At each tournament, five net awards are presented in each of the three divisions, with the lowest net division winner being declared the Overall Low Net Winner for the tournament. The Senior Tour also recognizes the Overall Low Gross Winner, and offers an optional Medalist Division competing with gross scores only.
The Senior Tour also offers Year-End Awards, and recognizes an Overall Tour Champion for the season based on points awarded on each player’s finishing position for each tournament. Additionally, at the end of the season the Top-20 points leaders receive special awards.
The Tour uses a modified handicap system and only RVSGT rounds are used to calculate these handicaps. The Senior Tour maintains a roster of regular members, plus up to 8 alternates. The Senior Tour website provides information on how to sign up, weather policies, Tour Rules of Play, plus handicap and points systems. If a new member doesn’t have an established handicap, the tour allows them to provide five recent scores with location and tee box used in order to “improvise” until they get a Tour-calculated handicap.
Senior Tour member Mike Bond won the September tournament at Great Oaks Country Club in Floyd with a Division 3 handicap of 26.
So far this year in the eight tournaments played through September, the participation has been strong with the total number of players ranging in number from 86 to 101 in any single event. And, the players bring a wide range of handicaps to keep the competition evenly divided among the three divisions. At September’s tournament at Great Oaks Country Club in Floyd, of the 86 golfers entered, 24 had handicaps less than 10, 41 fell in the 10-19 range, with 21 players carrying handicaps of 20 or over.
The eight tournament winners through September included five players from Division 3, three of which had handicaps ranging from 24-26. The remaining three winners came from Division 1 with handicaps from 9-11. So, the opportunity for any senior golfer to have a good round, sink some putts and have the bounces go their way lends itself to anyone being able to take home a trophy, along with the camaraderie of having fun with fellow seniors. The average age of Senior Tour members is 71
The cost to become a member of the Senior Tour is an application fee of $120, which covers administration costs and prizes. The monthly tournament cost, negotiated by the Senior Tour, typically ranges from $30-$40 for cart fees and green fees at each course. At the final tournament, set for Roanoke Country Club in late-October, RCC is including a lunch for the players.
“We’ll be working over the winter to get things ready for 2023,” Firebaugh pointed out. “One special thing about our Tour and its diversity is that regardless if you’re a labourer, truck driver or bank executive, you may be riding in your cart with anybody from all walks of life. We have a saying around the Senior Tour that our main purpose is to get these old guys off the street and out of their wives’ kitchen. We hope that anyone interested in a fun outing will consider coming out and give our group a try.”