Group for “Mediocre” Golfers Focuses on Fun, Not Talent

By ALLISON WARD, Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Approaching Hole 14 at Royal American Links golf course in Galena, Joe Milacek was feeling good about his round, thinking he just might be in contention.

Then the 31-year-old Northwest Side resident hit his ball into the pond off the tee. Then he did it again.

“Is it dry?” fellow golfer Dave Knowles asked.

“Nope,” Milacek said with a grin that only widened when he hit the ball into the water again for a third penalty before finally reaching the green.

Fortunately for him, most of his foursome spent time in the water at 14, too.

Not that it bothered any of them. Water penalties, shots from the bunkers and lost balls — so many lost balls — are par for the course for members of the Mediocre Golf Association.

Sunday, July 14, marked the group’s fifth tournament of the year: The Bratish Open.

“Everything about the Mediocre Golf Association is tongue-in-cheek,” said Jeff Gilligan, a 53-year-old Westerville resident who in 2012 helped start the Columbus chapter of the international organization.

The initial group was founded in 2006 by Cincinnati native Jon Morley as a set of eight tournaments for the bogey — or worse — golfer. Currently, there are more than 70 chapters worldwide, including six in Ohio (Athens County; Beavercreek, east of Dayton; Cincinnati; Columbus; Piqua, north of Dayton; and Toledo).

“The idea is that playing par golf is not possible,” Gilligan said. “The pros do it, but we’re not pros.”

“Those guys are super-human,” said Jason Strickland, 37, of Tuscarawas County, Columbus’ current chapter leader. “Golf is generally seen as this snooty, strict, white-collar type of game. We kind of take it less seriously, and it’s more for the average person.”

Besides funny tournament names that follow upcoming PGA tour events — the Bratish Open instead of the British Open — the group hands out oversized, worthless checks to winners and trophies that are not always suitable for display at work.

The rules book is filled with expletives while the chapter’s business cards say, “Face it, you suck. Join the MGA.” Beer — or in some foursomes, bourbon — is encouraged during play.

And playing well isn’t always rewarded. The winner of each tournament must play tees that are farther away at the next event, and golfers with a handicap of less than 18 are assessed penalty strokes at the end of a round. If someone shoots a gross score of 79 or better, he is disqualified.

While the rules book contains lots of jokes, it also points out how members — an annual membership is $39.99 and people can sign up on the organization’s website — follow the United States Golf Association rules for playing the game.

“No one plays with mulligans or fluffing the lie (to improve the ball’s position),” Milacek said.

Milacek joined the group with some friends about four years ago because they were looking for a league that played regularly but at different courses in central Ohio. The next event is Aug. 4 at Blackhawk Golf Club, also in Galena.

Finishing up Hole 11, someone asked Matt Bigelow his results.

“I need a calculator,” the 33-year-old Gahanna resident quipped.

“Call NASA,” said Matt Keller, also 33, who lives Downtown.

That joshing is one of the reasons Bigelow — who earned the tournament’s Meltdown award by scoring a 16 on one hole, with five shots going in the water — enjoys playing with the group.

“You’re not playing with scratch golfers,” he said. “There’s camaraderie, smack-talking and competition.”

A lot of the ribbing comes from his father-in-law, Jay Sutter, and Sutter’s brother Gary, who both live near Cincinnati but play in the Columbus league.

“Right now, I’m beating him so it’s all good,” said Jay Sutter, 67.

Gilligan took home the red key, a distinction reserved for the last-place finisher that allows him to shoot from closer tees next time.

“I’ve signed up for lessons since I’ve won the red key more than I’d like to say,” Gilligan said. “But I’ve already told the instructor I don’t want to get too good.”

Other awards include most mediocre (middle of the pack) and longest drive.

More than 40 golfers, ranging in age from 19 to 72, participated in the recent Bratish Open. The scores vary widely, too: Steve Sillato, 68, of Westerville, and Ryan Chiarito, 32, of Hilliard, tied with a low score of 83 (but Sillato won in a putting playoff) while Gilligan represented the other end of the spectrum at 140.

Zac Laumer, 30, a recent transplant from Buffalo, New York, to Victorian Village, joined the group at the beginning of the season to meet people and try out nearby courses.

“Golf is stressful enough that it’s nice to play in a pressure-free environment,” Laumer said. “Plus, it’s a fun group of guys.”

A member of Laumer’s foursome, Graydon Spanner laughed as he searched for his ball at Hole 9 only to find it behind an air conditioner near the clubhouse. Initially, the 36-year-old Clintonville resident assumed he’d take a penalty shot and drop it to an easier location from which to hit, but he gave it a whack as a joke. To his surprise, he chipped the ball perfectly out of the rough.

“That’s like pro-level stuff,” Spanner said.

At least for these guys.