TERRE HAUTE —
The Masters in April. The U.S. Open in June. The British Open in July. The PGA Championship in August.
The Terre Haute Men’s City Golf Championship in September.
That’s the way the local golf calendar has flowed for as long as many care to remember. Certainly it was that way on Sept. 17, 1933, when Fritz Cox edged none other than Tony Hulman at the Country Club of Terre Haute in the inaugural event, and the Men’s City has been a September staple since at least the 1980s.
In a break with tradition, the first round of the Men’s City golf tournament — sponsored by Show Me’s — will begin next Saturday at Rea Park.
As it has been in the past, the tournament will be four rounds split over two weekends at Rea Park and Hulman Links. The final round of the tournament takes place on July 21 at Hulman Links.
While the course and format will be familiar, the time frame won’t be. And when it comes to golf, a sport that is attached to the whims of the months and seasons more so than most, playing in July versus September makes a world of difference.
At least that’s what Tom Jones, the Terre Haute Golf Association president, is hoping for.
Jones and other local golf observers felt that the Men’s City needed a reboot. Various challenges have arisen over time that have made the traditional September date less palatable.
Chief among those concerns? Course conditions at both Rea Park and Hulman Links.
By mid-September, when the tournament usually kicks off, both courses are past their peak. The increasingly hotter summers have taken their toll on fairways and greens alike by then. Some of the grass in the rough has withered.
“Mid-July is typically when the courses are in their best shape,” Jones said. “Course condition is the largest mitigating factor in making the change. If we declare a Men’s City champion, we want to do it in the best conditions possible.”
Weather in July is typically more predictable as well. Weather at the Men’s City in September can range from cool-and-rainy to blistering heat. The cool and rainy summer Terre Haute has experienced so far in 2013 have metaphorically laughed at the notion of more predictable weather, but there’s one thing that doesn’t change in July, rain or shine.
There’s more daylight.
The Men’s City has run into problems in the past with weather-related delays that have pushed rounds into the following day due to loss of sunlight.
“Having more daylight than we do in the fall is an advantage. We can get all of the players on one golf course everyday,” said Dave Kennedy, the tour pro at Rea Park and Hulman Links.
There are other factors at work in moving the tournament too. Participation, or lack thereof, has become a major concern for the Men’s City as well as the demographic of the participants.
According to Jones, the Men’s City once drew a field of upwards of 300 golfers. In 2012, there were 120 players who competed in the field.
And the field has aged over time. No one minds that, of course, but tournament organizers know that the future of the venerable tournament is tied to how many younger players it can draw to its field.
By playing in July, it gets the Men’s City away from school commitments that can effect the participation of students and parents alike.
“Youth involvement is a huge push with golf and the PGA in general,” Kennedy said. “It’s even hard to get people from my generation — I’m in my younger 40s — to play as they are increasingly tied into their kids’ activities.
“Having the tournament in July, we’ll get some HS kids, which they wouldn’t have been able to do in the past. It’s tough competing against video games, sometimes golf takes a back seat,” Kennedy added.
Ted Kaperak, a nine-time winner and defending champion of the Men’s City tournament, agrees that increased participation is a must for the future of the tournament.
“I think it’s a good idea to have as many people playing to keep the sponsorships coming to make the tournament better,” Kaperak said. “We need more participation and getting more people playing golf in general. If [moving the Men’s City to July] is what we need to do, that’s what we need to do.”
Kaperak has noted that there’s, “a lot less golfers than there used to be” and that an uneven economy and increased commitments and options for would-be younger players has made it a bigger challenge to draw new blood to the sport and to the tournament.
Jones said that long-time Men’s City participants like Kaperak and others have been receptive to the change.
“The guys who play a lot of golf understand why we’ve made a change. I’ve run into very few who hate it,” Jones noted.
An issue that might be created by having the tournament in July is that it could interfere with recreational golfers who want to play Rea Park or Hulman Links. Weekend golfers generally turn out better in July than September.
Kennedy said it was a concern, but that the course not being used would be open to the public and that the Men’s City is typically completed in time for open golf to take place in the afternoon.
As far as the tournament itself, the mild temperatures and seemingly constant participation have been a boon for course conditions. This is especially true one year after a crippling drought brought golf courses to their knees in terms of maintaining proper standards.
Kennedy said he’s never seen Rea Park greener in July, considering the course has a single irrigation system. Hulman Links fixed its drainage system prior to this year … in a nick of time.
Hulman Links has typically had problems with high water in the past, but the heavy spring and summer rains have been absorbed with few problems at the eastern Vigo County public course.
“Everything ought to be nice and green and plush. Playing in September, it used to be you’d hit it in the rough and it was burned up,” said Kaperak, who praised Jones for the work he’s doing in the THGA.
“It’ll play longer and we plan to play some of the back tees. It’ll be about the best player, instead of just the best putter. Scores won’t be as low and people will have to get used to not making five or six birdies a round,” Kaperak added.
The weather has created one unexpected issue for the Men’s City. Fairway renovation at Hulman Links was delayed due to heavy rain here and at the sod farm in St. Louis it is using for replacement.
Fairways won’t be done in time for the tournament, which will likely make a lift-clean-and-place rule necessary for the Men’s City at Hulman Links.
Despite some challenges, Jones is hoping the move to July achieves all of the goals he has set for the Men’s City, including increased participation.
“If we’re north of 150 golfers, that would be good. If we at the 100 to 110 golfers we’ve been getting, we might have to re-think it,” said Jones, who said the July date will likely be a one-to-three-year experiment for now.