Although I hold the view that the article I published in Junior Golf on March 19th raised an issue of importance that ought to be addressed, the International Junior Golf Academy (Bishops Gate) (“IJGA”) and the International Junior Golf Tour (“IJGT”) see it differently.  My view is quite simple, that repeated tournaments hosted at the Bishops Gate Golf Course should not be eligible for JGS ranking or WAGR rankings. My logic is twofold: these tournaments are played on a golf course that their academy students play every day, and the participants are principally limited to their academy students.

My decision to publish the article was not intended to disparage the IJGA or their partner tour, the IJGT. I also did not mean to suggest that they couldn’t host whatever tournaments they believe may be best for the playing benefit of their students. I just feel that the results of these tournaments should not count towards any official rankings.

I also want to clarify the intent behind displaying the screenshot of an IJGA player’s resume. This screenshot highlights how many tournaments some players have played on the same golf course, which is the primary premise of our article. The two tournaments played at away courses should have been removed from the screenshot, as they do not add to the narrative of playing the same golf course week in and week out.  The screenshot was included as an unnamed resume.

Given how differently the IJGA has viewed the article and how it and IJGT seek to avoid becoming involved in further controversy, I have offered them the opportunity to present their side by answering a few questions that I posed to them. They have agreed to respond to these questions. Please see below.

Question No. 1 : We applaud you for taking Covid precautions with your academy students; what has it been like to run an Academy during Covid?

With an international student body, we have had to operate with an abundance of caution.  Our parents would not tolerate IJGA risking any Covid-19 infections amongst its students.  Over these thirteen months since lock-down in early March 2020 we have been fortunate to avoid any.  Through all of this we have been concerned with maintaining the positive mental state of our students, which for us has therefore been a very high priority.  Students’ lives at IJGA are nearly all centered around golf.  We have striven therefore to allow our students to develop their golf games by experiencing the fun and challenge of frequent golf tournaments, as a relief from being isolated at the Bishops Gate campus.

Question No. 2 : Why do you feel your tournaments should be ranked while being played on the same golf course your students practice on every day?

Golf is principally about individuals competing against the golf course for a score.  Unquestionably there can be some advantage in playing a layout with which one is familiar.  Frequent play can allow one to understand the strategy required for particular holes and to become familiar with the green complexes. Despite all that knowledge, however, one’s shot making ability remains critical and constitutes the most important factor in achieving lower scores.  Offsetting these advantages, knowledge of the course may also result in negative effects, such as mental scarring that can remain as a result of past difficulties on certain holes.  Players may also suffer a sense of complacency that can result from playing the same course.  The Bishops Gate Golf Course is very challenging, particularly in windy or wet conditions! IJGA undertook an analysis of a sample of 20 of our students who have played some Away events.  We found that the majority of these students, 12, scored better at the Away events then they did on the Bishops Gate course.  Only a minority of students, 6, were found to have scored better on this their Home course.  For 2 of the 20 the results were about the same Home and Away.

Question No. 3 : What was your major objection to the March 19th article?

The title “Gaming the System” suggests cheating and the glaring reference to Varsity Blues insinuated fraud and a similar pattern of criminal activity on the part of IJGA.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Despite that, the article may have been used to disparage the excellent reputation of the IJGA and IJGT and could be used in the future.  Significantly, the article simply missed a key point. The Bishops Gate Golf Course is rated by the Florida State Golf Association, therefore IJGA is compelled to furnish all scores to the USGA for handicap purposes.  For each competitive tournament staged by IJGT, all of which are open to the public and have attracted non IJGA student participation, the tour is required to submit all results to the various ranking systems.  How these systems use the results to compute their rankings is beyond the control of either IJGA or the IJGT.

Question No. 4 : How do you think Covid has impacted the junior golf academy environment?

The biggest challenge for IJGA and others providing full time boarding golf programs has been in recruiting new students, particularly from Asia, as quarantine restrictions have made travel virtually impossible.  US consulates in many countries have shut down and are not available to issue visas for study in the US.  We have necessarily been constrained to keep all students safe from coronavirus.  This constraint has caused IJGA to limit students’ travel to outside golf tournaments and to prevent them from enjoying the many tourist attractions in the Orlando area.  Somewhat surprisingly, a positive effect has been the way in which students have been compelled to create amazing support groups among themselves.  The forced confinement of the pandemic has caused them to develop much deeper relationships with each other, helping many of them to grow immensely in character.

Question No. 5 : How do you think Covid has impacted the junior golf tour environment?

Many parents are especially concerned that their children avoid exposure to Covid-19.  That is certainly been the case with parents for the large majority of our students at IJGA, thus we have taken a number of steps to “lock-down” our students in our “Bishops Gate Bubble” and to preclude them from travelling to external golf tournaments.  During the same time, however, many American junior golfers who aspire to college golf scholarships have, with the support and encouragement of their parents, continued to participate in local junior golf events, with some even travelling nationally to different tournaments.  As a result, this has lessened the impact on junior golf tour participation.

Question No. 6 : What are the pros and cons for hosting your IJGT tour on the Bishops Gate Golf Course, during the covid pandemic, regardless of whether or not they are allowed to be ranked?

Because most students at IJGA have been in complete lock-down and forbidden to leave the Bishops Gate community, they have no option but to play their tournament golf at the Bishops Gate Golf Course.  Tournaments are an essential element necessary for student development. Tournaments motivate them to work hard on their games and participation in tournaments under the watchful eyes of their golf coaches enable them to get critical feedback on those areas which require more focus.  In fact, the golf course at Bishops Gate is so challenging, most students would prefer to play their tournament golf at other courses, but the Covid-19 pandemic has precluded them from playing elsewhere.  The alternative to staging events at Bishops Gate would have been no competitive tournaments at all for the majority of students.