WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- With the PGA at The Greenbrier for the first time in more than 30 years, golf may be a foreign subject to many in the area. With birdies, bogeys, flat-sticks, drivers, FedEx points ... it's a lot to take in for a golf rookie.
Here's a beginner's guide to the PGA Tour and The Greenbrier Classic (for a complete guide, see the online video version of this story at www.wvgazette.com/greenbrier).
Golf has a few unwritten rules: Who putts first? Who takes the first shot on a hole? Why does everyone in the area near a golfer have to stand still during a swing?
To answer these questions, the notion of golf etiquette must be understood. There is no official rule why the golfer with the longest putt goes first, or the winner of the previous hole takes the first shot on the next hole. Golfers follow an etiquette code that is followed everywhere from The Greenbrier down to the local nine-hole course.
As for the "stand still" rule? Anyone within the 90-degree angle of a tournament golfer about to hit had better stand stock still. Don't worry -- you'll be reminded by a bunch of people in colorful shirts holding "QUIET" signs aloft. After all, a wayward distraction in the background may be enough to throw off a golfer's swing.
Aside from etiquette, golf has plenty of concrete -- and thorough -- rules. The cut, for instance, divides the field in two. After the second round (Friday), the half of the field with the worst scores goes home; the other half plays Saturday and Sunday for a chance at a cash payout and FedExCup points.
FedEx points are essentially the PGA's official road to the postseason. If a player makes a cut in any tour event, he earns points. Whoever has the most points after August's PGA Championship is the FedExCup winner and the official champion of the PGA season. (Tiger Woods is the reigning champion, but isn't likely to repeat in 2010.)
On the first two days of a tournament, half the field tees off at the No. 1 hole, the other half at the No. 9 hole. This means you'll almost always have action on every hole at all times. Before their round, the golfers take swings on the driving range or hang out on the practice green, just below the 18th green. On this giant, multihole putting green, golfers get the feel for their putts or iron out their kinks before starting their round.
With amateurs like Jonathan Bartlett and Barry Evans playing in The Greenbrier Classic, the word "exemption" is mentioned a bit. An exemption is a ticket into a tournament, sometimes for non-PGA players like Bartlett and Evans. The road to the PGA is a long, arduous journey, and to get a "Tour card" (membership in the PGA), the road gets a bit more complicated.
A Tour card can be achieved through qualifying school, for prospective pros, or through the Nationwide Tour, which is akin to a minor-league system.
The field of golfers at The Greenbrier Classic is stocked with these lesser-known Nationwide graduates, and for the casual fan, one question is on their mind: Where are Tiger and Phil? This tournament is two weeks after the British Open and two weeks before the World Golf Championships at Firestone, so many of the top-tier golfers either take off these "in-between" events, or play a primer tournament the week before the WGC. Unfortunately for The Greenbrier, it won't attract the big names until its reputation suggests that this is a worthwhile way to spend the weeks between major tournaments.
Go to www.wvgazette.com/greenbrier for a video walkthrough of The Greenbrier Classic and more beginner's info for the new golf fan.
Reach Mike Balducci at gaze...@wvgazette.com or call 304-348-4882.