SI Vault
Herbert Warren Wind
January 07, 1957
Beset by rising costs, many clubs are in trouble. Herewith a survey of expenses and ways to meet them—including gambling
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January 07, 1957

Out West Of Calcutta

Beset by rising costs, many clubs are in trouble. Herewith a survey of expenses and ways to meet them—including gambling

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What was either the worst or the best thing that has recently happened to American golf—it all depends on how you look at it—occurred in September 1955. It was discovered that the two golfers who won the invitation four-ball tournament held by a prominent Long Island club (and with it the lion's share of the $45,000 Calcutta pool) were not only playing with grossly fictitious handicaps but that one of them was playing under the name of another golfer who had been invited to compete in the event.

One of the repercussions of this revelation that "hustling" had reached E. Phillips Oppenheim proportions was a memorandum issued in March 1956 by the United States Golf Association, the official governing body and watchdog of American golf. That memorandum, in short, stated that the USGA "disapproves of gambling in connection with golf tournaments because of the harm it can do to the best interests of the game." "Too frequently," the memorandum went on to explain, "gambling tournaments coming to the USGA Executive Committee's attention have spawned some unpleasantness if not dishonesty—such things as falsification of handicaps and scores, evasion of Rules of Golf, payoffs to players (so-called amateurs), attraction of persons of questionable motives, chicanery in various forms. These things seem almost inevitable where the object is not golf but money. Even in the small, seemingly well-controlled Calcutta, the prospect of financial return has undoubtedly influenced some competitor to 'negotiate' for a higher handicap. Golf should be played for its own sake and not for profit...." Accordingly, the USGA urged its 2,000 member clubs, all golf associations and all sponsors of golf competitions to enact clear and positive resolutions prohibiting Calcutta auction pools, pari-mutuel betting, lotteries and other forms of gambling on tournaments. (As a corollary to this general line of action, the USGA informed amateur golfers that gambling was considered conduct detrimental to the best interests of the game and, as such, a violation of the rules of amateur status. This put some teeth into the wordage, for many fine amateurs, who had been the belles of the ball at the weekend Calcuttas, did not want to lose their amateur status or prejudice their chances for selection to the Walker Cup team.

In this memorandum the USGA announced that it was "reluctant to intrude in the affairs of a club, which theoretically is an extension of the homes of its members," and so limited its action to urging its member clubs to undertake the suggested moves.

The reactions of the member clubs (and also of clubs not directly affiliated with the USGA) were, to say the least, various. Many immediately moved to abolish their Calcuttas and—if they had previously permitted them—other sanctioned forms of gambling on tournaments. Furthermore, they let it be known how genuinely they appreciated the USGA's firm leadership in helping them to rid themselves of the local presence of what they had come to view as golf's special Frankenstein monster. Many other clubs, however, did consider the USGA's request an intrusion of their privacy and, in some cases, an overly paternal affront to their competence: they were fully aware, they declared in effect, that a mismanaged Calcutta could cause all sorts of havoc but their club was able to handle its own affairs; if their members wished to continue to hold a Calcutta, they jolly well would—in fact, they were definitely going to continue to do so.

A large number of clubs ended up on the fence, balanced halfway between these two opposing points of view. The USGA, they felt, might have been somewhat arbitrary in issuing so definite a memorandum unless that organization was prepared to continue to consult with clubs on this thorny joint problem and then to modify or strengthen their official stand in the light of subsequent knowledge. They agreed, nevertheless, to abide by the USGA's request for a period of time and see what they would see. Some of these on-the-fence clubs are still perched there. Others sat there a relatively short time before substituting (or making plans to substitute in 1957) pari-mutuel betting on their tournaments, recognizing that there were indeed marshy regions in the Calcutta setup, but also that the demands of their members for some local autonomy had to be faced up to.

As the 1956 season progressed, a somewhat minor tangent of the controversy was given more and more promise ice in the arguments of the clubs favoring Calcuttas (and/or pari-mutuel betting). Closing down these affairs, they brought out, had seriously staggered their club's financial equilibrium, it having been the using practice for most clubs to receive 10% to 20% of the total pool.

As is beautifully clear to any golfer who has ever paid his annual dues or climbed intrepidly to the top of the delinquent list, postwar golf is a very expensive proposition for the members of private clubs and for the clubs they support collectively. The tax rates on the club's property, the wages for clubhouse staffs (some of which are now unionized), the cost of repairing or improving or expanding the club's physical plant, the prices of equipment, fertilizers, etc., for maintaining the course, the wages of the greenkeeping crew—all of these have risen sharply. To find out just what part a club's share of a Calcutta played in raising increased revenue to meet increased expenses, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED recently undertook an informal survey of the over-all financial operation of representative golf clubs and country clubs located throughout the country. Some of the questions asked were these:

?Did (or does) your club rely to any degree on its share of Calcutta pools as a source of income?

?If so, and if the Calcutta has been abandoned, what steps have been taken to replace this source of income?

?Aside from dues, what methods have been used throughout the years and recently to guarantee a continuing source of income?

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