Featured photo: The man behind the mask is Simon Miller – who was the man at last year’s City Amateur Men’s Golf Championship (courtesy/Simon Miller).
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
It’s won’t exactly have the suspense of a Greek drama, but the 79th-annual Greater Albuquerque Men’s City Amateur Golf Championship could certainly provide some theater.
And has the makings of a little comedy and tragedy, as far as scores are concerned.
“With everything going on and all the restrictions we have to follow, it will be different,” tournament director David Muttitt told Enchantment Sports on Tuesday night. “We’re still finalizing a rules sheet but probably won’t have that ready until the first round.”
The 54-hole tournament begins on Friday at Ladera Golf Course. The second round is Saturday at Arroyo del Oso with the final round on Sunday at Los Altos.
Call it the inaugural COVID City Classic — New Mexico style.
Because of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s coronavirus restrictions, there will be a number of changes for the players, including the uncomfortable — and downright goofy — mandate of golfers being forced to play while wearing face masks in temperatures near 100 degrees.
After all, players could actually stumble within 30 feet of each other on the green from time to time in the outdoor sun.
“It’s comical,” said one golfer, who didn’t want his named used for this story. “We can sit around a table a few feet apart without wearing a mask, but we can’t walk a golf course by ourselves without one?
“But I’m just glad to be playing again. I give the golf pros in New Mexico a heckuva lot of credit for getting us out here again.”
There are no water fountains or ball cleaners on the course, which means players need to bring plenty of H2O with them.
Rakes are not allowed in sand traps, but golfers will be allowed to place their ball in traps.
There are “foam noodles” in the cups, preventing balls from dropping all the way to the bottom of the cup. And under COVID-19 restrictions, flags must be left in the hole at all times, but officials have not determined how that will be handled.
It could lead to some firm putts scooting over holes, or bouncing off.
While there is bound to be some snickering and some complaining, chances are that most players will simply enjoy playing again competitively.
Defending champion Simon Miller is one.
“It’s probably going to be a little strange to wear a face mask the whole while,” said Miller, 27. “It’s not something that any of us are used to doing. And it’s really difficult wearing glasses.
“I’ve been trying different masks on, trying to find one that won’t fog up my glasses when I’m trying to hit a shot. I’ll just have to figure something out.
“But I just really give the organizers a lot of credit for finding a way to play the event.”
Miller, a 2011 Albuquerque Academy graduate, took a four-shot win over Alejandro Armijo last year.
Other top names in the field include Aiden Thomas, Jason Myers, Matt Van Dyke and current New Mexico Lobo golfers Slater Sivage and Ross Sinclair.
Former senior division champion Sam Shepperson, who has competed in the event for nearly two decades, said he’s been playing a lot this summer and understands the mandates.
“We all wear our masks in the pro shops, in the snack bars and anytime we are around each other,” said the retired UNM music professor. “But golfers are taking them on-and-off while they’re on the course.
“It’s definitely a challenge to wear them out there. I mean, it’s 100 degrees and your sunglasses steam up. Everybody is trying to do the best they can, but most people aren’t wearing a mask the whole time when they are playing. Sometimes, they have to come off to take a breather or keep their sunglasses from fogging.”
However, Shepperson said if the face mask rule is strictly enforced at all times, he will oblige.
“We don’t need the governor shutting us down again,” he said. “So we will all do what we have to.
“I’m just not sure she (Lujan Grisham) really understood what it’s like on a golf course when she made the restrictions. There is not a better social-distancing sport than golf. You’re by yourself nearly the entire time out there.
“And that’s how golfers want it,” he said with a laugh. “Who wants to be around the people you play with anyway?”
As for fans being able to identify players they want to watch, that won’t be an issue. No spectators are allowed.
There also shouldn’t be any hold-up on tee boxes. Under current requirements, tee times will be spaced 12 to 15 minutes apart. It should create a good flow.
Longtime tournament director Colby Reddoch is still part of the event. But after being named director of golf earlier this year at Los Altos, he handed the tournament director reigns over to Los Altos teaching pro Muttitt.
The two, along with the head pros at Ladera and Arroyo del Oso, have plans in place to make the best of the grand-old event — and give the players a good experience.
And the course conditions will help.
“The course is in the best shape it’s ever been in,” Bill Harvey, director of golf at Ladera, said of his course. “There’s more grass than we’ve ever had and the greens are really rolling well. It’s really in terrific shape; all three courses are.”
In recent years, Harvey made the pin placements very challenging, but said that won’t be the case this time.
“They will all be set up very easy,” he said. “We want to get the players in, and get them out. We are making the par 5s longer, so they are three-shot holes to flow better. That will keep players from waiting for those in front of them to clear the green, before trying to get there in two shots.
“We are really trying to speed up the pace of play, so we can make it as fun and enjoyable as possible. It will be difficult enough for them.”
“We really are trying to do all we can to make it fun and keep things moving,” said Muttitt, who actually did play in last week’s PGA Championship. “It will be different, and we understand that. I’ve played in a number of tournaments (during the pandemic), but none where you have to wear a face mask.”
Harvey added, “It’s about the players. We wish we could do more, but we can’t so we just want them to go out there and have fun.”
The governor’s rules also don’t allow congregating after the round, but outdoor dining is. All three courses have outdoor dining areas.
However, the inside of snack bars, like all state restaurants, are off limits for dining. New Mexico remains one of just three states in the country that doesn’t allow indoor dining. California and New Jersey are the others.
But face masks aren’t required while dining outdoors.
So while competitors will play in threesomes — in separate carts or on foot — and much of the time hundreds of yards apart from each other, they have to wear face masks while on the course in 100-degree heat.
But after the round, they can sit up to six at a table under, under an awning with cooling fans, and have a hot dog and drink — sans masks.
Ah, New Mexico golf.
Should be interesting.
WAITING LIST: The field is limited to 120 players, and was expected to be at the limit by late this afternoon. For golfers who might want to get on the waiting list, in case of no-shows, please call Muttitt at 505-270-6317 or Reddoch at 505-298-1897.
The $180 Entry fee includes greens fees, range balls, and lunch. Carts not included.
The entry form must be accompanied with payment in the form of cash or check. Checks can be made payable to GAMGC. The first 120 entry applications received will be guaranteed entry into the tournament. Deadline for entries is August 19 (see below).
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is covering the Albuquerque Men’s City Amateur Championship for the 41st straight year.
See this link for some of his memories after he covered the event for the final time in 2017 for the Albuquerque Journal.
Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio and has been honored nationally for investigative reporting. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.