Its taken me a few weeks to collect and calm my thoughts on this years 100th running of the San Francisco City Championship, one of America’s largest & longest running amateur tournament. This years event is dedicated to the memory of past City Champion Ray Pellegrini
The SF City (or just the City as we all call it) is the oldest consecutively played competition in the world. And its history has a famous final match contested between Harvey Ward and Ken Venturi that to this day is remembered as the greatest final match in its illustrious history.
Growing up as a kid I can remember reading about the “City” in the SF Chronicle on the front page of the Green Sheet (The coveted sports section). I dreamt of one day perhaps playing in this great historical event, that many of the greatest professional players never won, including Tom Watson and Johnny Miller. But the real allure of the city was that you knew you would be met with impossible conditions, driving rain (with no such thing as a weather horn to suspend play), temp greens, and players from all walks of life, bus drivers, homeless chaps, police men, Investment Bankers, college students on golf scholarships, Insurance salesman and real estate tycoons. In the City, it was you against the world, and the grueling format made it very very tough to win this event. Your first weekend is qualifying over two course, traditionally it was Harding Park and Lincoln Park, 300 or so players vying for one of 64 spots in match play, before we’d begin three weekends of match play, the first weekend would be 64 to 32, and 32 to 16 players. The next weekend would round of 16, and then quarterfinals, followed by the toughest weekend of a 36 hole semi-final match, with the two tired survivors playing a 36 hole final the next day starting at 7:00 AM.
The kid from Orinda that dreamt of just competing in this event made it to the final match in three different decades, 1984, 1999 and 2008. In 2008 the tiny print headline was 49er faces 16 yr old in city final. I vividly remember after playing 36 hole semi final (all walking no carts) how do you think my 49 yr old legs felt when that 5:00 AM alarm went off? Rested and fresh, or dead tired and running on pure adrenaline. Well yes, it was a dream to be playing the youngest player ever to make it to the finals, while I believe I was the second oldest in a final match. It was a tale of getting a big lead (5 up after 22 holes, and then completely losing my legs and losing 6 holes in a row. I then convinced my mind and body that I would throw everything I had at the last nine , and got the match to all square going into the 35th hole of the match with Martin Trainer. I enjoyed this young man, and was proud of what he had accomplished, and as much as I would like to erase my bogey bogey finish on the 35th and 36th hole, I was happy that Martin my very talented and respectful opponent would be the youngest city champion in history. I had played 72 holes in basically 32 hours, in the most intense pressure imaginable. AND THATS what makes the City so amazing, is that everyone cherishes and values a City win as a major championship.
The BAD news is the City has not been held at Harding Park for many years now (accept for the semi and final matches). My hats off the the SF Tournament committee, these guys fight hard to preserve the legacy of this amazing event, but in the end, the City of San Francisco really doesn’t care. They still want to charge a full weekend rate green fee for each round played (my understanding is thats approx $140 a round). The SF City is the ONLY event I play in that after your qualify for match play your reward is you start paying green fees for each match you play in, so if you go to the Finals you could end up spending almost $1,000 to play in the event.
I am quite befuddled, upset, and a little crazy about this, and have watched this incredible event lose stature over the past 40 years from its media coverage to the City just not caring that the event is played at its real historic home Harding Park. Our beautiful City, is more concerned about missed revenue ops, and what the PGA can pay to have events like the WGC Match Play Championship, the Presidents Cup, and the PGA Championship. For now they are in….and the historic City is out.
Its also sad to me that true amateur golf has gone from being more important than the pro game, to now nobody seems to really care anymore about it. The college game is bigger and has more media exposure, but once you exit the college ranks and come into the amateur ranks, its pretty much over. I guess some would say, why would anyone care about a bunch of passionate players playing amateur events for trophies and prizes? When you can follow Ricky Fowler on Twitter and know what he had for breakfast. Fair enough, I am biased because I was apart of the day when high level amateur competitions were popular and followed by the media.
My guess is – if you polled every player in this years SF City and asked them, would you pay $40 a day more to play Harding Park over Presido, my guess is that 80% of the guys would happily pay the extra money to play Harding. I guess thats what you call the cost of doing business with the city of San Francisco, just like how you have variable pricing parking meters. I am not here to talk about the financial wisdom of those that make these decisions, but I say to them, SHAME ON YOU!!
As a contrasts to the city of San Francisco, the fine Gentlemen that run the Alameda Commuters, Alameda has NEVER lost the importance of running their fine event.
But these guys are all out there on almost every hole, and they have been able to keep the same feeling of the past alive in this important event. While the SF City committee is trying everything they can do to make the event matter, and they do a great job with what they have to work with. Its just a shame that our illustrious city by the bay that generates billions of tax dollars from tourism, hotels and big business, cannot see its way past perhaps $20,000 to bring the worlds longest running tournament back to its home.
I hope that those of you that have read my views on this must know I may not have 100% of my facts correct as I am not on the inside of the actual numbers, these are guesstimates and in NO way am I trying to take away from the amazing job the SF City committee does in running this massive event. These guys volunteer their time, and should be recognized and thanked by each player in this event, that may not understand how much work and effort goes into running a major event like this. And to all the NCGA volunteers that give up their weekends to come out and start us, officiate us, these are all the hero’s of amateur golf. And I hope more of the participants in all of the flights take a minute to thank those that are there running these events out of the love for the game.
To them and the memory of Ray Pellegrini am I motivated to write about this historic and special event. that many of us have memories that will last a lifetime!
Tomorrow evening is the 100th SF City Champions dinner, I will attend with great anticipation about remembering Ray Pellegrini, my friend, a competitor that exemplified everything that is good about competitive golf. Many of us will always remember Ray for his rhythmic swing, and deadly bullseye putter. In this life we have to remember how precious every moment is, and memories that I have with Ray, are very precious memories to me.
Thank you all for tuning in, and this blog will now become more active, especially if I have more to talk about with improved results))