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Bizarre turn in story of DQed high school golfers: players, administrators say official told them to hit from wrong tee, then denied it

May 17, 2018

On Tuesday we relayed a story from the Oregon high school state golf tournament, in which 12 players were disqualified for hitting from the wrong set of tees. The gist of the issue allegedly derived from a scorecard mistake. But in speaking with those involved in the incident, Golf Digest has learned the confusion didn't end there.

According to students, coaches and school administrators, an official directed some of the players to hit from the markers that ultimately led to their dismissal—and then denied it.

The first group—comprised of players from Rogue River, Columbia Christian and Grant Union—arrived at the 13th hole at Quail Valley Golf Course in Banks, Ore., during the first round of the state tournament and noticed the blue tees, which were the official markers, were 40 yards further back than the stated 172 yards on the scorecard. Spotting the discrepancy, the players asked a Rogue River assistant coach who was walking with the group what they should do. The assistant noticed an official official nearby and went to receive clarification.

“My assistant didn’t know what to do, so he asked the official, who pointed towards the red tees and said, ‘Looks like we’re hitting from here today, boys,’ ” says Rob Isom, head coach of Rogue River. The assistant told the boys they were good to hit from the red.

Bart Valentine, athletic director for Columbia Christian, said his coach, Todd Hamilton, also immediately recognized a problem. According to Valentine, the official failed to provide any help.

“My coach said, ‘You need to figure this out,’ ” Valentine says. “Well, [the official] didn’t.” The second group followed by playing from the red tees as well.

The third pairing did not leave anything up to chance, approaching the official for the ruling.

“After we had finished the 12th, we walked to the the next hole, towards the blue tees,” says James Gordon of Rogue River. “After checking the scorecard and seeing that the yardage didn't match up, we asked the marshal.”

Rogue River's Isom was at the 13th hole when this occurred.

“[Gordon’s] playing partners started at the blue markers when the official said, ‘Hey, you guys are down here,’ motioning to the reds,” Isom says.

“My kid and the Grant Union kid heard this, too,” AD Valentine affirms.

According to Pete Weber, Oregon School Activities Association executive director, the official on the 13th hole was a volunteer. Barb Trammell of the Oregon Golf Association said the volunteer was a forecaddie and mistaken for a rules official. Golf Digest's attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

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Members of the fourth group noticed the error as well, but were similarly instructed to go off the red tee. Joe Lafever of Rogue River thought nothing of their tee shots. That is, until he was on the green, when a different marshal in a cart approached.

“After putting I’m asked from a cart, ‘What tee time are you guys?’ To which I replied, ‘7:57,’ ” Lafever recalls. “He then asks what tees we played from on 13, and I said, ‘We played from the reds because it was 172.’ He then writes something down and begins to drive away. I said, ‘Excuse me sir, is there an issue? We were told to play [the reds] on that hole.’ And he does not say a word, he just keeps driving. I then said, ‘Excuse me sir!’ And he turns and replies very abruptly, ‘Stick to the blue tees for the rest of your game.’ And he drives away.”

According to Jason Miller, dean of students and athletic director at Grant Union, after the fourth group went through, a course official notified the groups behind that they were to hit from the blue tees, despite the wrong distance on the scorecard.

“The tournament was not stopped, nobody in front was notified,” Miller told Golf Digest via email. “After the OSAA was alerted of the error, they referred to the rules committee for course of action.”

This move that did not sit well with Coach Isom. “That’s an unfair advantage,” he says, of the following groups being told of the mistake. Officials from all three schools said they were informed by the course that the hole had been set up wrong, but instead of moving the blue markers to the red, the rest of the field was told to hit from 212 yards.

Following their interaction with the official in the cart, Lafever said that his entire group was unsettled, believing they were going to get disqualified. A few holes later, Lafever waved down Coach Isom and asked him if there was an issue with the 13th tee. That is when the group discovered the problem.

However, according to those involved, they were not aware of their fate until after they turned in their scorecards, only to notice “DQ” marked by their names in the leader board.

“We kind of freaked out,” Lafever admits. “We were like, ‘What's going on?’ ”

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Miller says it was the rules committee that made the ruling. “They stated that the individuals that hit from the incorrect tee should be disqualified.”

The situation became further complicated when players, coaches and the volunteer official were brought together. Multiple people involved said the volunteer official at that time denied that he told players to hit from the red, counter to the account of the players and coaches.

“I was in the meeting where the official was called over and asked, ‘Did you tell players to go off the red?’ And he said, ‘No, I would never do that,’ ” Coach Isom says. “Then he just walked back to the course.”

“If [the official] knew they were supposed to be teeing off from the blue [tee], why did he watch four groups hit from the red and not say anything? That’s nonsense,” AD Valentine says. “So he’s saying, ‘No guys, you're supposed to tee off from the blue,’ and that he let them hit from the wrong tees? That didn’t happen.”

The players were dumbfounded.

“He flat out lied. There are the three kids who are in the group that heard him say it, plus a coach was standing right there who confirmed it.” Lafever says. “Did the kids just see a marshal and decide as a group, ‘Oh, he’s right there, let’s just say he told us too.’ ... No, no!! Why on earth would they do that?”

The Columbia Christian team, which had already left the course, had to be called back to corroborate the story. Evan Mengershausen, who was in the first group, said all players eventually went to the tournament organizer.

“We were hoping he would listen,” Mengershausen said. “We started talking to him, and the rules official showed up again. This made it hard to tell the story, and it was especially frustrating for me because I was the one who was telling the story, and getting interrupted [by him] mostly. Finally he left, and it was just us and the organizer. He listened to us and was very respectful. He started digging deeper to find what really happened.”

The OSAA's Weber understands the emotion from the players, coaches, administrators and parents, and expressed empathy towards the situation. Unfortunately, Weber says there wasn’t much the OSAA could do.

“The issue they came down to, by the time we figured what had happened, the kids had already moved on to the next hole, and the rules are clear in how that should be handled,” Weber says.

Missy Jones, a rules official with the USGA, agrees.

"There's really nothing you can do," Jones says. "The players didn't play the course. It's unfortunate and sad, but that's why we have sheets. That's on them."

She also says, once the four groups went through, the course and committee couldn't have switched the blue tees up to the red.

"Mistakes happen. It was a bad committee," Jones says. "I understand they're kids, but they should have challenged what they were told."

Columbia Christian golf team

Columbia Christian golf team

The players and coaches said they are not trying to evade blame. But they also said they acted on the information at their disposal, and they were simply following direction from the official.

“Let me ask you, at 16 or 17 years old are you going to tell the coach, 'Hold up mister, you need to get me clarification from the rules committee?'” Grant Union's Miller says. “This information supposedly came from a coach and a marshal. The coach admits to giving the erroneous advice, the marshal does not. These are kids listening to an adult, which we always ask them to do in school and in athletics as long as the request is reasonable, and for that belief and show of respect, they are disqualified.”

The OSAA's Weber told Golf Digest he's still getting calls and collecting all information on the matter.

“Certainly it’s unfortunate. We are reviewing all of our procedures at our sites so we can prevent anything like this from happening again," Weber says. Regarding the account from the players and coaches, Weber states the OSAA can’t say for sure what happened.

"While the accounts of what exactly took place may vary, it’s clear that any mistakes that were made were not intentional on the part of any of the players or adults involved," Weber says. "Focusing on who said what to whom at what point or assigning blame to the players and/or adults misses the point. The USGA Rules of Golf, under which the championships were being conducted, are well known for their rigidity and don’t allow for the solutions some have suggested.

"Everyone involved, from the OSAA to event personnel to the coaches and even the players themselves, has the opportunity to learn and grow from this situation."

The players and teams were allowed to return for the second round, but they weren't able to post individual or team scores, which according to Columbia's Valentine, kept one of his players from receiving All-State honors.

While the incident cast a shadow over the event, all the coaches and administrators pointed out they admired the way the kids handled and conducted themselves. Coach Isom said it proved to be a bonding experience for all teams involved, and that they went out together to Dairy Queen after the incident.

“They were laughing and joking, having a good time,” Isom. “That was their suggestion. That’s what they wanted to do. They shared an ice cream cake with spoons. I hate to say it, but I think this will ultimately be a good thing. They went through something together and came out.”

Grant Union's Miller also expressed pride in his team’s response, with Valentine showering his boys with similar praise.

“One of the reasons we have sports, is to help kids learn life skills, and one of those skills is accountability and responsibility, and these students did that to the fullest,” Valentine says. “I just wish I could say the same about the adults who ran the event.”