Guy Wimberly, ‘Mr. New Mexico Golf,' Had a Knack for Recounting History
It was in the mid-1970s, maybe 1975 or 1976. The New Mexico States Men’s Golf Association Championship had been held in Socorro. The organization had been run for years by a wonderful gentleman named Ted Russo.
Ted, who was from Los Alamos, was a mover and shaker for all of golf in New Mexico.
I know it was disappointing to him, the turnout for that Socorro tournament. There were fewer than 25 players and the championship flight had only six golfers. It was won by Dick Hood, a young professor at the University of New Mexico. The weak turnout did it for Ted. His thoughts were, “If we want golf to remain strong, someone, or a group of people, must do what is necessary to keep the game of golf growing” in New Mexico.
A few months later, five golfers met, and what would become the Sun Country Amateur Golf Association was born. In that group were: Dave Browning, a stockbroker, Britt Reubush, a University of New Mexico professor, Dr. Wes Wilkening,an optometrist, in whose office the meeting was held, and PGA professionals Tom Nielsen and Bob Meiering.
The first order of business was to come up with a name for the organization, or should it be the same, the New Mexico Men’s Golf Association?
The Sun Country Section PGA originally had been organized as the New Mexico Chapter of the Southwest Section PGA. The section at that time included Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Just a year or so earlier, the territory for the newly independent Sun Country PGA had became all of New Mexico and El Paso County, Texas. Someone in that meeting said, “OK, we have a Sun Country PGA, so why not a Sun Country Amateur Association?”
Pros and Amateurs Working Together
At first, the two organizations were like family working together. Like the section, the new SCAA included El Paso County, as well as some of the western counties of Texas from north to south. Along the way, the name was changed to the Sun Country Amateur Golf Association.
The big question was, how would these organizations make enough money to support the various programs needed to grow the game of golf?
Both entities set up a dues structure and amateurs were recruited from each golf club. Professionals started organizing “pro-am” events and, in consultation with the new amateur association, they passed a resolution which read, “In order for an amateur to play in a SCPGA pro-am, that golfer must be a member of the SCAA and have a “computerized handicap card.” A small portion of each pro-entry fee, $2, was turned over to the PGA section.
A computerized handicap card was unheard of at the time, and clubs were excited about the idea. Why? Show me a “handicap chairman” at your local club at the time and I could show you an unhappy person – some poor guy poring over hand-written scores accumulated over a month and running hundreds of calculations by hand. (Don’t forget, cheap hand-held calculators didn’t become common until the 1980s.)
To have a machine calculate handicaps was a life saver. For pros, who often served as their clubs’ handicap chairmen, the handicap duty was drudgery. Soon, golf professionals realized handicapping needed to be turned over to the new amateur association.
NM-West Texas Takes the Lead in Computerized Handicapping
Although some forward-thinking clubs already were experimenting with computerized handicaps – UNM, New Mexico State University, the Sandia (Base) Men’s Golf Association – the new SCAA set out to have the handicaps programmed by a single standardized source.
Tom Nielsen and a friend, Larry Pomroy, a local accountant who was exploring computerizing his own business at the time, volunteered to look into a one-size-fits-all system. The PGA Section changed its bylaws to read, “Players must have a computerized handicap approved by the SCAA.”
The cost at the time seemed minimal. The PGA Section asked for a cut of the income, since its members were doing most of the selling of memberships. It was decided that handicaps would be updated 10 months of the year, and the PGA would section get seven cents for each computation.
Fast forward to 1983. I was elected a national vice president of the PGA of America for the territory covering Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. At one of our first board meetings, in l984, a presentation was given by a representative of the United States Golf Association. The fledgling SCAA was a member of the USGA. The presentation was about the USGA’s new “Golf Handicap and Information Network,” or GHIN system.
It was stated that although the handicap index system would still be used for computations, there would be a new “slope” rating built into the calculation to reflect the difficulty of a golf course. The USGA also introduced the idea of “equitable stroke control,” which adjusted scores by limiting the number of double bogeys and higher that would be used in calculations.
PGA Worried New Mexico-West Texas Amateur Would Go Rogue
During the presentation, I noticed that the president of the PGA, Mark Kizziar, was looking at me repreatedly. In my mind, I was wondering if he was angry at me for something. After the meeting I asked him if we needed to talk.
He said the USGA was concerned about the SCAA’s likelihood of embracing GHIN. They were a well-run organization and they already had their own computerized handicap system up and running. He confessed that the PGA national office feared that the SCAA might become a holdout, and might lead other regional organizations to hold out against GHIN.
I told him no, that wouldn’t be a problem and, sure enough, the SCAA was one of the first associations in the nation to sign on to the GHIN system. In a way, you could argue that New Mexico and West Texas were way ahead of the rest of the country.
I’m a member of the Sun Country PGA, and, you might be surprised to learn, I am proud to be a card-carrying member of the Sun Country Amateur Golf Association, as well. I'm a member of the Men’s Golf Association at Sierra del Rio Golf Course in Elephant Butte and have a computerized handicap, thanks to the SCAGA. So, when you come down, don’t be surprised if I ask for strokes.
Guy Wimberly wrote a regular column for Sun Country Golf magazine for four years. This article originally appeared in May 2009.