BOZEMAN – The heavily-debated Montana spectator golf rule has swept the nation and has sparked debate between parents and school administrators.
“Personally, I’m not in favor of letting spectators walk the course,” said Jefferson Athletic Director Dan Sturdevant.
That’s the sentiment echoed by a majority of Montana Athletic Directors in regards to the Montana high school golf spectator rule. As written, fans cannot go beyond designated areas at matches, which are usually very limited in many cases.
“I do have some concerns for spectator safety and player safety. And not only that but interference by spectators for the players as they play,” said Manhattan Athletic Director Pat Lynch.
And at the annual MHSA meeting on Jan. 15, the rule was discussed, but striking it down completely was not a favorable idea. However, some ADs were open to compromise.
“We’re going to try and find more areas where people could go, instead of just staying at the club house,” Sturdevant said.
It is unclear how many more designated areas they are willing to open up. But Leslie Spalding and Billings native who is the last PGA pro from Montanasays that’s not good enough.
“It shows a close-minded group that doesn’t want to listen to the golf world, that doesn’t know what the golf world really is like outside of the state of Montana and uses safety as a little scapegoat,” said Spalding, who is the head women’s golf coach at San Diego State.
The member schools hold the power on the rule’s future but they are not alone in this process, they need to work hand-in-hand with one very important partner.
“One thing we always want to focus on is what do our courses want. And that’s sometimes a challenge of putting spectator rules on,” said Michelotti in an interview with KBZK in November.
To gauge the interest of their athletic directors and golf course professionals, the MHSA sent out a simple yes or no survey to its 112 golf teams in Montana. Of those schools, 66 responded with 50, or 75 percent, saying they would not be in favor of any change. However, the results of the survey to PGA professionals painted a completely different picture.
A staggering 31 out of 34 (91 percent) said they are in favor of opening up their entire course to spectators. These two groups are supposed to be working together, but PGA professional Mark Holiday said the club pros in Montana are not taken seriously by the member schools.
“We’re the people who offer our courses up for these tournaments, we do the rule sheets, we do the rules officiating and yet we’re kind of disrespected by the High School Association on something that we are really in favor of that they won’t go along with us. We feel like we want to be partners, but we don’t feel a partnership with them,” said Holiday, the PGA Director of Golf at Bridger Creek Golf Course in Bozeman. “It’s really a disrespect to the PGA professionals, disrespect to the golf courses, disrespect to the kids and their parents.”
Holiday and PGA pros live and breathe golf, and he says if they were allowed to run a tournament their way, the real benefit of golf spectators would show through.
“This is our livelihood, this is what we do, and we certainly can do it better than the administrators,” Holiday said. “Eventually they will see that once we have spectators on the golf course, it didn’t hurt anybody, it really enhanced the experience for everybody and it’s just the right thing to do.”
Both sides may not agree on the issue, but they do agree on one thing. Someday, this 40-year-old rule will vanish.