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Last month, the National Gallery of Caricature and Cartoon Art opened an exhibit of Pat Oliphant’s post–Cold War funnies. But last Monday at a Potomac golf course, Washington’s own satirist nonpareil showed he doesn’t need a pen and paper to provoke guffaws. Just give him some golf clubs.
“I’m a bad golfer,” admitted the much-lauded, much-syndicated lampooner, just before meeting his early-afternoon tee time at TPC Avenel.
Not too many moons ago, John Daly, Corey Pavin, and Payne Stewart were among several dozen of the world’s best golfers to play Avenel during the PGA’s Kemper Open. Oliphant came to the beautiful course to host the inaugural D.C. Open of the fledgling BGA (Bad Golfers Association) tour—he is a fore!-father of the BGA.
The BGA was spawned during the annual golf outings Oliphant partook in with three equally horrendous players—John McMeel, Brad Lesher, and John O’Day—who also happen to be among his nearest and dearest friends. That foursome had made a habit of divoting up the links around Amelia Island, Fla., long before coming up with the idea.
“When we played in Florida, we were always all very, very bad, but I still had so much fun, just because I was getting together with these guys,” said Oliphant. “I knew I wasn’t going to get better, because that was the only time I played all year.”
“When it takes more than 12 hours to play a round, like it always did for us, you really only have time to play once a year,” added Lesher.
Recently, the bad-golfing buddies decided to turn their inside joke into a more formal affair.
“The turning point for the BGA’s existence was that we found out that while there are 25 million golfers out there, only 10 percent of them can shoot under 100,” explained McMeel, everybody’s choice as the lamest linkster of the founding foursome.
“That means there are a lot more of us than there are of them,” Oliphant chimed in, in tones indicating he rates double-digit golfers to be a lower form of life than, say, politicians.
Among the first projects Oliphant et al. undertook after getting their brainchild incorporated was the publication of “The Official Rules of Golf According to the BGA.” This piece of agitprop exhorts bad golfers to have fun on the course by any means necessary, even if—especially if—doing so requires flouting the often constricting regulations of the game laid out by the USGA.
For example, under the heading “Out of Bounds,” the BGA rule book is bracingly open-minded: “There is no out of bounds.” And under “Penalty Strokes” there is plenty of room to wiggle: “These are added to your score if your partner is a jerk.”
“When you’re this bad, it’s not cheating,” says Oliphant of the BGA’s cruddy credo, “because there would be no point to cheating when you’re this bad.”
In order to prove that rotten golfers make fine human beings (and to give the foursome a chance to play together outside of Florida), the group aligned itself with Christmas in April, a D.C.-based charity that rehabs the residences of low-income, elderly, needy folk. Thus was born the BGA Tour.
“We do it so we can play at the same courses as the pros,” laughed Oliphant.
The BGA assumes that even bad golfers have disposable income that can be put to good use, and the turnout at the initial affair at Avenel proves that assumption correct: More than 120 hackers signed on for the D.C. Open, and, according to organizers, the event would clear more than $50,000 for Christmas in April. That money would come through entry fees ($500 per golfer) and corporate sponsorships. Whereas at “normal” golf tourneys participating corporations are offered the opportunity to sponsor things like tee boxes and greens, at BGA events it’s the sand traps and water hazards that are for sale.
There were other visible acknowledgements of the field’s talent deficiency. A four-man scramble format, in which only the best score among the foursome counts, is used at BGA events to prevent any individual golfer’s ego from suffering too great a hit. Some of the groundskeeping modifications made to accommodate the ability-challenged golfers might be enough to make golf purists puke. Take, for example, what was done to Avenel’s scenic ninth hole, a downhill par three on which the entire green is ringed with water: Five holes were carved into the green, and golfers could putt into whichever one they wanted.
“They’ll need ’em all,” explained Eden Blackwood, a volunteer serving as a BGA official for the D.C. Open.
Hugh Jeffers can use all the help he can get. Jeffers fits right into the BGA’s demographic, professionally speaking—he’s a vice president for NationsBank in D.C.—and his game certainly qualifies. Jeffers, possessor of perhaps the most crippled backswing in a field of doozies, had wandered over to the Avenel practice tees in hopes of receiving some last-minute instruction from a teaching pro stationed there. The impromptu lesson didn’t go smoothly.
“Well, that shot’s not that bad,” was about the most positive counsel the well-intentioned instructor could offer after watching Jeffers top one last range ball into the plush Avenel sod. According to the BGA rule book, “Benefiting from the help of a golf professional” is grounds for revocation of one’s BGA card, so maybe Jeffers is lucky things went so badly.
As he gave up on the tutelage and walked back toward the first tee, Jeffers conceded that his blatant badness was strange for a banker, a profession where dexterity on the links can be far more important to career advancement than an ability to crunch numbers. The BGA tourney’s players’ roster included bigwigs from corporate giants (and potential NationsBank account-holders) like Boeing, MCI, and—thanks to Oliphant—Universal Press Syndicate. So, although he was ostensibly surrounded at Avenel by fellow duffers, Jeffers nevertheless expressed concern that his badness could hurt him in the workplace.
“Unfortunately for my company, I’m the only one representing NationsBank on the golf course,” Jeffers shrugged. “Because of that, I’ve set a goal: to not embarrass myself too badly in front of others. But, well, if you’ve seen me play, you know that’s not a realistic goal.”
On the subject of unrealistic goals, or maybe some home-cooking: Oliphant’s foursome tallied an 84 for its round at Avenel, which, although a very mediocre score for a best-ball tourney, was good enough to win the D.C. Open crown. Even the losers get lucky some time…—Dave McKenna
The Oliphant exhibit, which is free and open to the public, runs through Labor Day at the National Foundation for Caricature and Cartoon Art at 1317 F St. NW. His golf game, meanwhile, will be on display again in late August in Buffalo, N.Y., the next stop on the BGA tour. For information call 202-483-9083.