Ultimate Golf!

¡¡¡¡Tom White putts during the final round of the Montana State Men’s Senior Golf Tournament at Yellowstone Country Club in 2019. The seniors will be merging with the Montana State Golf Association, putting all the rules under one umbrella.?

¡¡¡¡MIKE CLARK, 406mtsports.com

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¡¡¡¡GEORGE GEISE

¡¡¡¡406mtsports.com

¡¡¡¡GREAT FALLS?¡ª It¡¯s been several decades since all the major players in Montana¡¯s widespread golf community have been governed by the same rules and the same scorecard.

¡¡¡¡But within a few months, the oldest and youngest Treasure State golfers will be back under the same roof.

¡¡¡¡The board of the Montana State Senior Golf Association recently voted to merge with the Montana State Golf Association, effective on Jan. 1, 2022. The move culminated a year-long review of the senior association and its future impact on golf in the Treasure State.

¡¡¡¡¡°This merger, along with the 2018 merger of the Montana Women¡¯s Golf Association, will make the MSGA a better and more cohesive organization,¡± said Jim Opitz of Helena, who has has served as executive director of the MSGA for more than 20 years.

¡¡¡¡¡°The ultimate goal for all involved is to support and grow the game we love,¡± he added.

¡¡¡¡In the June MSGA Newsletter, Opitz outlined the procedure that will bring the seniors under the state association¡¯s umbrella.

¡¡¡¡¡°The two organizations spent the last year discussing the benefits of bringing the organizations together. It became clear that both were in the business of promoting golf in Montana, and joining together only made sense,¡± Opitz said.

¡¡¡¡The MSGA currently has about 16,000 members who fund dozens of programs through handicap fees that run between $15 and $20 per person per year. The MSGA sponsors nearly a dozen state tournaments for men, women and juniors, and also financially supports collegiate programs at Montana colleges and universities.

¡¡¡¡Junior golf has been a special focus for both groups; the MSGA currently spends more than $35,000 annually on a variety of junior programs, while the seniors have been donating about $5,500 annually to junior golf (18-under).

¡¡¡¡The senior association has about 480 male members who pay $50 per year for dues. The MSSGA conducts only one event each year, but it¡¯s a huge tournament. The annual State Senior Tournament usually attracts about 320 men for a three-day event, and a separate women¡¯s tourney also is played for one or two days.

¡¡¡¡Retaining the senior tournament in its traditional format was a big incentive for the merger, said MSSGA executive director Kevin Hayes of Helena.

¡¡¡¡¡°The expectation and assurance that the tournament would continue in its current form was the key piece (to acceptance), Hayes said. ¡°The MSGA has assured us that they recognize the popularity of the (state) tournament and they have no interest in changing an already successful event.¡±

¡¡¡¡The seniors rotate their event among seven Montana communities: Great Falls, Helena, Butte-Anaconda, Bozeman, Billings, Missoula and the Flathead Valley. They are among the top tourist draws each summer for those areas.

¡¡¡¡The final MSSGA-sponsored state tourney will be played August 3-5 in Butte and Anaconda at three area courses.

¡¡¡¡The MSGA also is sponsoring a Senior Division at the annual State Men¡¯s Amateur event, scheduled for July 15-17 at Canyon River Golf Club in Missoula.

¡¡¡¡In most states across the country, the golf scene for men and women, junior and seniors, is under the auspices of a single organization. And that¡¯s how it was in Montana from the beginning of the Montana State Golf Association in 1917 until the 1950s, when the women formed their own association. And a few years later the seniors decided that they should have their own state tournament as well.

¡¡¡¡The senior men started a separate plus-55 division at the State Amateur in 1956, won by Carlos ¡°Pops¡± Vaughn of Kalispell. In 1958, the seniors split off and started their own tournament, attended by 31 players.

¡¡¡¡Today, the annual state tournament has four age groups ¨C from 55-62 to 78-over — and golfers are further grouped by handicaps. It¡¯s as much a social event as it is a hotly contested competition, and that¡¯s the way most of the guys like it.

¡¡¡¡¡°Sure, the tournament is fun and we look forward to socializing with guys we haven¡¯t seen for a year,¡± said 74-year-old Rex Tanberg of Great Falls, who has served on the MSSGA board for almost 20 years. ¡°But if you asked the low 20 guys, I know they still consider it a serious tournament. And the guys in the fifth flight are trying hard, even if the prize is a sleeve of golf balls.¡±

¡¡¡¡At the end of the year, the senior association will transfer its funds to the MSGA, and that money will be designated primarily to support senior golf. The seniors also will contribute seven board members to the larger organization, and a separate MSGA committee will be devoted to seniors.

¡¡¡¡¡°If they (MSGA) take one from each of our tournament cities, that probably would be good,¡± Tanberg said. ¡°The main thing is we need to have a voice in senior golf issues.¡±

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