By John Strege
The PGA Tour moves on next week to the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla., a three-mile drive from Tarpon Springs Municipal Golf Course, and their proximity is not incidental to this story.
Tarpon Springs is under investigation -- ready for this? -- for gambling on the golf course. Given that this is a possible crime in which the State Attorneys Office apparently is interested, it might want to venture over to Innisbrook on Tuesday, when practice rounds will be played, some with vast sums of money exchanging hands.
We make light of it from where we sit, but from where Chuck Winship, the general manager and director of golf at Tarpon Springs, sits, this is no laughing matter. He has had to retain an attorney because of the potential of a felony charge filed against him.
At issue are Tarpon Springs' 14 golf leagues, where in addition to the green fee, each participant kicks in a sum of money that comprises a tournament purse. "The leagues are something every club in America has," Winship said.
The investigation, he said, started with a disgruntled former employee. "He wrote to the city fathers and somehow they turned it directly over to the police department. That's kind of where it is," Winship said.
The possible violations include "keeping a gambling house" (state statute 849.01, a felony) and "game promotion in connection with sale of consumer products or services" (849.094), Tarpon Springs police spokesman Captain Jeffrey Young told the Tampa Bay Times.
"Technically it well could be [a violation] and that's the trouble with how the Florida gambling laws are written," former Pinellas County prosecuting attorney Robert Hambrick said. Hambrick is now in private practice in Clearwater, Fla. "Unless there are specific exceptions, gambling is unlawful. There are exceptions for bingo, poker, bowling. I guess they'll have to amend it and put one in for golf.
"But for the Tarpon Springs Police Department to make any type of argument that it's a gambling house is patently absurd. The absurdity of it is, are we really going to have law enforcement out there looking at the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law? The more ridicule presented about it, I think, will help tilt the State Attorneys Office to do the right thing. This is absurd."
Meanwhile, Winship is, if nothing else, concerned emotionally, he said. "It's one of those things that really should be nothing, but it's been a month now that this stuff's been going on. It's disconcerting."
As for whatever sums the tour pros play for in their Tuesday practice rounds, or even the simple $2 Nassau that recreational golfers play for, it apparently is a misdemeanor, according to Florida Statute 849.14, "Unlawful to bet on result of...contest of skill, etc." It states that "whoever...wagers any money...upon the result of any...contest of skill...shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree."