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A League of Your Own

Exclusive to TGA Members, State League Play offers a lighter side of team competition
 
   Shawn Walsh called it the best golf experience of his entire year. He and his Tierra Verde teammates in June held off top-seeded Lochinvar to win their second consecutive TGA State League Play championship at scenic Horseshoe Bay.
   Since its inception in 2006, the team match play competition that utilizes the USGA Handicap System to level the playing field for competitors of all skill levels presents a unique opportunity for Texas golfers to experience the thrill of tournament golf in a more relaxed setting.
   This is your league. Available only to TGA Clubs, this year saw more than 670 individuals at 40 Member Clubs participate in League Play. The season begins annually in March with home-and-away regular season matches and concludes in early June with a single-elimination championship tournament in the heart of the Texas Hill Country.
   By virtue of your membership and accompanying handicap delivered by the GHIN Handicap System, you’re eligible to compete for your home club or course. Registration for the 2015 season opens Dec. 1.
   “It’s the biggest event I play in,” said Walsh, an industrial supplies salesman from Arlington who carries a 5.3 GHIN Index. “Being able to play on a team and play the match play format is so much fun. We just love it. You don’t get a chance to play match play very much, and almost everything we play is as individuals. The TGA League Play is so well run and we love hanging out as a team. The competition is there, but there’s a lot of camaraderie, too. That’s the best part.”
   Highlighted by the Texas Amateur, the TGA conducts more than 30 annual championships. The best amateurs in the state play those tournaments. The competition is fierce.
   It’s not for everyone. The truth is that kind of intense golf can be intimidating. Some amateurs, however, still want to experience the thrill of competition. They’d just prefer a more social and relaxed atmosphere.
   Enter the TGA League Play.
   The ways in which it is different than nearly every other type of golf you play are numerous. For starters, it’s team golf. For the past two seasons, 40 teams have competed in TGA League Play. Golfers play for their home clubs, whether they’re regulars at a public course or private club members. Each team can have as many players as it wants. Eight players are needed for each match, so most clubs or courses stock their rosters with enough players to field eight players on a given day and have flexibility in scheduling.
   There are 10 divisions comprised of four teams each. Each team plays a home-and-away series against the other teams in its division. The divisions are created with geography in mind; the teams also are involved in determining which clubs and courses they want to align with in their division.
   All matches are played as Four-Balls, meaning you have a partner and the better score between the two counts for each hole. Each team match consists of four Four-Ball matches. The scoring is similar to a Nassau: there’s one point at stake for the front nine, one for the back nine and one for the overall 18 holes. That adds up to a total of 12 points at stake for every team match. The first team to post 6.5 points wins the team match.
   Another way TGA League Play is different is its use of the USGA Handicap System. Three of the four matches in each team match are played with net scoring. Highlighting the inclusive nature of the competitions, golfers of all skill levels are welcome. Only the first match in each team match is played as a scratch game. The other three Four-Ball matches use 100 percent of each player’s GHIN Handicap Index.
   The first two Four-Ball matches are played at about 6,800 total yards. The third and fourth matches are played at about 6,500 yards, which is tailor-made for seniors and higher-handicap players.
   “We love playing as a team,” said Walsh, the captain of the Tierra Verde team. “We don’t ever get to play that type of golf. With a team, there’s hanging out with the guys and the competition. We love the match play format, too. We don’t play a lot of match play in competition. We love it.”
   Walsh and his Tierra Verde team have competed in TGA League Play since 2009. From playing against other clubs and visiting their courses, he said he’s made somewhere between 30-40 new friends.
   “At the end of the day, the camaraderie we have is a pretty cool deal,” he said. “Everyone wants to compete, everyone wants to win. But hanging out with a good group of guys and playing with a common goal is a really special deal.”
   The cost is $500 per team, and it’s open to all TGA Member Clubs. Each division decides on the rates for green fees and/or guest fees. At the conclusion of the regular season, each division champion in late May advances to the League Play Finals at Horseshoe Bay Resort. A four-day, single-elimination tournament ensues at one of the most scenic golf spots in the state.
   “We take it seriously,” said Lakewood Country Club head professional Gilbert Freeman, whose Dallas club has been involved with League Play since the beginning. “We had about four guys who came down early and played practice rounds at Horseshoe Bay. One of our guys has a house down here, so several of our guys stayed there.”
   Bill Brown, who ran the league since its start in 2006 until his retirement from the TGA this fall, added a new wrinkle two seasons ago when he allowed club’s head pros to play. Decorated professionals such as Freeman get to tee it up with their members.
   “Bill has done such a fantastic job with this over the years, and getting the pros involved was a great change,” Freeman said.
   The move accomplished a couple goals. The pros became more invested in TGA League Play, which is important because they’re the ones who help secure tee times for the matches. In addition, the relationships solidified and grew between team members and their pros. It’s a win-win for everyone.
   “What’s given me the most pride is the growth and establishment of relationships with players, team captains and head pros all across Texas over the past eight years,” Brown said. “The matches are great fun to watch, and at the end of the playoffs we have an overall state champion.”
   Freeman, along with Brown, has seen the substantial growth of League Play. Some of the most iconic clubs and courses in the state have bought into it. The opportunity for players to visit other clubs and courses while they experience the taste of competition in a unique format has proven to be a viable concept. The friendships and relationships that form and grow make it a no-brainer.
   “I’d definitely recommend League Play to other clubs,” Freeman said. “You interact with other clubs that you might not otherwise, so you meet new people. It’s good, and the camaraderie afterwards is always good.”
   Rodney Houston, the head pro at Lochinvar, said one of his members approached him years ago with the idea of fielding a team. Houston loved the concept and recruited Westwood, the Golf Club of Houston and the Houstonian to form a division.
   “My members who participate absolutely love it,” Houston said. “It’s the competition. You don’t get to play that format too much, so it’s fun for them. They love traveling to the other golf courses and making new friends. The handicap aspect makes it fair. You can have an 18-handicapper if you want. It works out very fair. The high-handicapper can stay competitive because it’s match play. Plus you have a partner, so that’s a good format.”
   Whether you’re a scratch golfer, a high-handicapper or fall somewhere in between, TGA League Play is the right fit for anyone who wants to feel the rush of competitive golf without the intensity of a typical TGA state or regional championship.