Americas birthplace of golf remains unsold

By Associated PressJuly 18, 2010, 12:00 am

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Mike Stevens is part of a group that travels to West Virginia every summer for an old-time re-enactment of golf at its American birthplace.

They use hickory-shafted clubs and yesteryear fashion statements, and hold onto hopes that Oakhurst Links can keep its heritage going, too.

Oakhurst has been on the market for more than a year. Lewis Keller Sr., the owner for 51 years, is frustrated over the lack of movement, considering Oakhurst’s significance.

The nine-hole course and museum in White Sulphur Springs are listed at $2.5 million, down from the initial offering of $4.5 million.

“It has been a bit of a disappointment,” Keller said. “But maybe things will turn around. I’m an optimist.”

Oakhurst, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, held its first competition in 1884, predating by a few years the St. Andrews Golf Club of Yonkers, N.Y.

“We want so much for it to remain in someone’s hands that will really have the stewardship and interest that we have had in it and maintain the history for the state as well as for golf itself,” Keller said.

The listing agent, Linda Brandt of Country Road Realty in Lewisburg, said the property will be sold to whoever wants it, even if it means becoming a future restaurant, bed-and-breakfast or wedding venue.

“We’re just anxious to sell it,” Brandt said.

Oakhurst is a mecca for the National Hickory Championship, where players shun modern technology that some claim makes the game too easy and predictable.

Stevens, a golf instructor from Tampa, Fla., won the tournament in June, adding to the title he earned in 2005. He doesn’t sound positive he will get the chance to seek a third one.

The course’s phone number has been temporarily disconnected and its website hasn’t been updated in some time. Gone are the sheep that until recently mowed Oakhurst’s fairways the way it was done a century ago.

“It’s kind of disappointing to a lot of us that go there annually to play because it’s really a one-of-a-kind facility in the United States,” Stevens said. “It’s a tough economy, too. I don’t know anybody that purchases it would make any money on it. It would have to be some sort of a labor of love.”

Count out any interest from Jim Justice, the owner of The Greenbrier who has pumped tens of millions of dollars into rejuvenating the resort, including landing this month’s PGA Greenbrier Classic.

He doesn’t want to revive nearby Oakhurst, too.

“Oakhurst Links holds a very distinguished place in American golf history and given its proximity to The Greenbrier, I do have an interest in seeing it continue as a tourism destination,” Justice said. “However, at this time I am not considering or discussing the possibility of purchasing the property.”

Keller’s daughter, Vikki Keller, said she’s noticed people staying at The Greenbrier drive up to Oakhurst to view the course because “they’re not sure if they would have another chance” to see it in its current playable state.

Oakhurst shunned today’s advanced metal clubs, golf bags and electric carts. The course’s own replica hickory clubs were made entirely of wood. Visitors formed tees from a mix of water and sand, hit balls that carry a few hundred yards at best and carried their clubs by hand.

“We all love going there every year,” Stevens said. “It’s such a little respite from the real world because it’s a beautiful location.”

Keller first learned about Oakhurst Links in the early 1950s from friend and golf pro Sam Snead, who lived just across the Virginia border. It was first owned by Russel Montague, who became addicted to golf while studying in Great Britain.

According to Keller, Montague’s doctor advised him in 1878 to move from Boston to a healthier climate. Montague chose White Sulphur Springs, partly because of stories about its so-called healing waters.

Montague and a small group of colleagues built the course and held the first golf competition around 1884 in the Scottish match play tradition, predating by a few years the St. Andrews Golf Club of Yonkers, N.Y.

But Montague and most of the original members eventually moved away. Play on the course stopped after 1910.

Keller, a New York native, bought the property in 1959 to use as a summer retreat and raise horses. He had a vision about restoring the course, but didn’t act until some coaxing from a golf writer.

Golf designer Bob Cupp heard about the course and volunteered with the restoration.

Work started in 1991 and was done by hand, with newspaper and magazine clippings and course photos serving as guides. The 2,235-yard course reopened in October 1994.

During the years that followed, the museum was filled with snapshots of visits from golfers such as Snead, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson, who is The Greenbrier’s golf pro emeritus.

Keller would greet visitors with a smile, a handshake and offer of a glass of lemonade.

Now, the 87-year-old Keller, whose wife of 60 years, Rosalie, died earlier this year, wants to focus on family.

“When we left, everybody was hoping somebody would purchase it, keep it as a course,” Stevens said. “But we left that same scenario after last year’s tournament, too.

“It would be a shame if it did close down. Once it’s gone, we’ll never have anything like it again in this country.”

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PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.

Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 7:40 pm

Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.

Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.

It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.

Goodbye and good riddance.

The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.

“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.


The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.

Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.

Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.

But at what cost?

The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.

The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.

In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.  

We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.

Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.

We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.

“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.

Amen again.

We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.

There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.

This is good governance.

And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.

This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.

We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.

Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.

Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”

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PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.


We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.