Jokes about cheating at golf are easy to find, one of them being about a golfer who was so notorious for cheating that, when he made a hole-in-one, he put a zero on his scorecard.
But it was no laughing matter last spring at the Division 1 regional meet in Lake Orion, where Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse and Anchor Bay posted scores that were nearly four dozen strokes better than any they had carded during the regular season. The two teams then shot an average of 60 strokes over their regional scores at the state meet.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association is trying to do something about that, with some schools participating in a program where golfers can enter their scores on an app as well as writing them down on paper.
“They post their score on the app so the coaches in the clubhouse can get wind of guys shooting well below their average,” Durand coach Dave Inman said. “You can cut that off before it gets to the clubhouse and teams get sent home.”
But, he and others added, the real problem is a willingness to cheat on the part of some individuals.
“Golf is a game of integrity,” said Cody Inglis, associate director of golf for the MHSAA. “You have to call penalties on yourself if needed. Coaches have to insist on scoring integrity and pass it along to their players.”
The MHSAA uses an electronic program, called Birdie Fire, to track golfers at the state meet. The program, while successful, also is costly, which is why it’s not used at regionals.
The pilot program involves an app called iWanamaker, which allows golfers to enter their scores. It’s free to schools and coaches, while those who want to follow their loved ones outside of the team must pay a subscription fee to view the numbers.
While it sounds good in theory, some area coaches were against the concept.
“If kids have their phones out for that, what’s to stop them from cheating with another app?” Laingsburg coach Greg Beavers asked.
Currently, golfers are not allowed to use cell phones for any reason while on the course. Inglis says the MHSAA is using the pilot program to get feedback from coaches as to whether it would work in Michigan.
There are other factors, including access to cell signals, which may make any app problematic. In years past, observers were used, who would monitor holes as the golfers went by. But with regionals consisting of up to 20 teams, it’s hard to find enough to make that work.
Still, New Lothrop coach Joe Beach believes a human presence is superior, in this case, to technology.
“I don’t think (the app is) the answer,” he said. “Observers are, by far, the best way. When you left a regional when we had observers, you were positive the best teams advanced. What we have today, you’re not always positive.”
The worst thing, Beach said, is the uncertainty, a feeling in the gut that a team might have been dishonest without any proof.
“I came home from a tournament last year, and my whole way home, I was thinking these guys didn’t shoot those scores last year,” he said. “Maybe they had a good year, but I’d just as soon not have it the back of my mind. I’d rather not be thinking about that.”
Last year’s discrepancy turned the spotlight on a sport that doesn’t, for the most part, get a lot of attention.
Even if technology can flag the most egregious examples, it still, in the end, comes down to the players.
“Ultimately, it boils down to kids doing the right thing, unless we put drones in the sky, and I don’t think that will happen,” Inglis said. “We have to rely on the game being taught and coached in the right way. It doesn’t matter what level it is.”