Tournament promoters, who in many cases have paid guarantees of $200,000 or more to the big-name dropouts, don't complain too vociferously. Withdrawals often occur after most tickets have been sold, and without at least the illusion that top players were going to compete, many advance orders would never be placed. And while most players cite injuries as the reason for pulling out, those injuries are often the result of chasing guarantee after guarantee and playing far too many tournaments.
Butch Buchholz, the director of the upcoming Upton Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla., has long advocated a rating system that would tie players' rankings to a dozen tournaments throughout the year. That would help protect those 12 events from no-shows and might force players to cut down on overbooking. "We've got 87 men's and 55 women's tournaments and another 50 sites that want one," Buchholz says. "Kids fly all over the world because the money is there. It's hard to blame them for doing it."
Last week No. 2 seed Jim Courier did make an appearance at the Advanta Championships in Philadelphia, albeit a fleeting one. After he was upset 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 in the second round by unseeded Grant Stafford, he noted that he had already traveled 45,000 burdensome miles in 1997. "This could be a blessing in disguise to go out early here," Courier said. It was a blessing lost on those fans in Philly who shelled out as much as $50 for a seat to one of the later rounds.
"It was a horrible shot," admits Don Spraker. Spraker, a 56-year-old retired businessman from Cincinnati, is referring to his tee shot last July on the 165-yard par-3 6th at the A.J. Jolly Golf Course in Campbell County, Ky. Spraker watched in dismay as his ball vanished, heading for a house near the course. When Spraker hunted down his ball, he found that it had broken a window in the house. He left his name, number and a promise to pay for damages with a girl playing in the yard. Then he finished his round.
When the homeowner presented Spraker with a bill for $800, however, Spraker's insurance company said it was not responsible for the damages, and the matter ended up in small claims court. This is when the golf gods—in the form of judge Mickey Foellger—smiled on Spraker. Foellger, a golfer who admitted that he has "powdered some homes at various courses," ruled that because the golf course existed before the house was built, the homeowner knew the risks inherent in the house's location, and therefore his insurance company, not Spraker's, should pay. Duffers everywhere will applaud Foellger's Solomonic ruling. "The Court finds," wrote the judge, "that a golfer has no duty to hit the ball straight."
Leading Horses to Slaughter
In 1971, spurred by public outrage against wranglers who were killing wild horses and selling the meat for dog food, Congress passed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to protect these "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West." The agency soon founded the Adopt-a-Horse program, enabling members of the public to take possession of wild horses for a fee (currently $125). Now, a Justice Department inquiry has reportedly revealed that many of the adopted horses wind up cut to slabs in slaughterhouses. The Department of the Interior is also investigating Adopt-a-Horse, and last July seven former BLM law-enforcement agents wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno alleging that some employees at the agency have sold horses for butchering.
While denying wrongdoing, the BLM last month moved the program's headquarters from Nevada to Washington, to keep the administration under close watch. "We take allegations of this kind very seriously, even when we don't think they have merit," says BLM publicist Bob Johns.
The Justice Department inquiry says that instead of stringently screening adopters, the BLM employs a "don't ask, don't tell" policy and that thousands of the 8,000 horses adopted each year are later sold to one of the eight U.S. equine slaughterhouses. At 60 cents a pound, a 900-pound horse yields a profit of about $200. "Slaughter does happen," Johns concedes. "We wish it didn't, but we have no authority over the animal once it is titled."