A battle of high principles

Golf Things Considered column by John Rogers
JSpencerRogers@msn.com  

This will be the thirteenth time that the Walkers and Riders have knocked heads.

It all started in 1997, when Casey Martin, a Tour player with a circulatory disease in his leg, sued the PGA for the right to use a golf cart in their tournaments. Late that year, a group of members from Lakeview Golf Course were sitting in Luigi’s restaurant nursing their own legs after a grueling hour of wallyball, which is volleyball played in a racquetball court. It’s one of those things that golfers do when the days are too short for nine holes after work.

Naturally the conversation at Luigi’s turned to golf, and eventually to Casey Martin. Then the debate started. One faction of pizza-eaters, which included the loud-laughing one they call Fish, said that riding a cart is too much of an advantage; that walking is an important part of the game; that walking five miles during the round is part of the physical test of golf; that Casey Martin should not be allowed to use a cart.

And the other faction, led by Ralph (a shaggy, raspy-voiced turkey farmer) said that using a cart could be seen as a disadvantage, because the golfer never gets into the rhythm of the game; he does not get as loose; on cool days he will not get as warm; furthermore, the point of golf is to hit golf shots, which is a separate test from walking; it was not Martin’s fault he had a leg disease, and he should be allowed to compete, even if that means using a cart.

Then there was another opinion offered by a pattern-bald, libertarian sort of guy they call The Badger, who did not want to argue the merits of walking and riding. He wanted to know who gave a federal court the authority to determine the rules of competition for a private entity like the PGA. What next, sue to wear shorts? Use orange golf balls? Maybe the PGA should be forced to use handicaps so that weekend warriors and wallyball players would have an equal chance to qualify for the Tour.

The real point, said The Badger, is not whether using a cart is an advantage or a disadvantage, but whether Martin, if he used one on Tour, would be doing the same thing as the other competitors. Why should the PGA be forced to allow two different standards in its competitions? If the PGA voluntarily decided to change their own rules, like they did by allowing the use of carts on the Champions Tour, then there is no problem. The problem emerges when the PGA is forced to change their rules. Bad precedent. Bad politics.

But The Badger was getting a little too serious for a pizza-and-beer conversation. So the argument turned away from politics and back to the real issue at hand – the subtle animosity that Casey Martin exposed in the world of golf. Some of us are Walkers. Some of us are Riders.

From a Walker’s perspective, golf carts are a nuisance. They make noise. They ride on paths that ruin the scenery and scuff up our golf balls. They degrade the traditions of the game, and lessen the social aspect of walking along with your playing partners having a conversation. Let’s face it, having a golf cart on the golf course is like taking your cell phone into church.

On the other hand, the Rider knows that he is not in church on Sunday. He’s playing golf. Trying to get around as fast as he can, so he can be on the lazy-boy for the ‘Skins pre-game show. Walkers need to get out of the way. And look how much stuff he can carry on his cart: a huge staff bag with 19 clubs in it, a cooler of beer, a change of clothes, an umbrella, the lunch special in a Styrofoam box, a pouch of tobacco, and of course, his cell phone.

Soon the golfers at Luigi’s were divided into two camps, and the debate degraded into something like this, “You bring your Walkers, I’ll bring my Riders, and we’ll settle this on the golf course.” So they did.

On March 22, 1998, 16 guys, eight on each side, gathered at Lakeview for a showdown. With Ralph as the captain of the Riders, and The Badger leading the Walkers, the teams squared off, playing two-man and singles matches for points.

The Walkers won that original grudge match, 7-5, and took home The Walker-Rider Cup.

Since then, the tournament has been held twice every year, in the spring and fall (except in 2003, when The Badger got married, there was only one tournament). It has grown to teams of 40 players each, with team shirts and a cookout. Some guys have ongoing, personal matches that have resulted, and they request their pairings for each tournament to get some revenge, or to offer another whipping.

So we come to the 13th tournament, and it’s a big one this time – both teams have won six of the previous tournaments. A rubber match. And Ralph is excited because his Riders have the momentum after they handed the Walkers a drubbing in the spring, 39-24.

Casey Martin won his case against the PGA, but did not qualify for many tournaments anyway. Maybe he should come down and play in The Walker-Rider Cup Matches at Lakeview. He won’t have any trouble getting a cart, and he did have something to do with getting the tournament started.

But the real winners are the members of Lakeview, Walkers and Riders, who seem to enjoy getting together for some fun and competition. That’s what the game of golf is all about. As it says in the Rules Sheet they hand out at each event, “This tournament started as a debate among good friends, and it continues as a battle of high principles, played out on the golf course.”



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