Graning: Looking back on SFB Classic

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

I’m skipping football to finish a few thoughts about the Southern Farm Bureau Classic Golf Tournament.

Mark Russell, who was the Senior PGA Tour Official at the tournament, was formerly golf director at Disney World Resorts in Orlando before becoming a PGA Tour official 23 years ago.

Mark now directs a staff of 14 officials, each of whom work about 28 to 30 events a year.

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The officials will normally officiate two or three events in a row before having time at home. They are at the tournament site Tuesday through Sunday and travel on Monday.

PGA Tour Rules and Competition Officials live from Florida to Arizona, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and include three from Mississippi: Ben Nelson of Madison, Arvin Ginn of Tylertown and Mickey Bradley from Ocean Springs. Only Ginn was on duty at Annandale.

These officials do so much more than wait around to make rulings. One official will come in a week early to supervise setting up the course and will also determine locations for parking, concessions, all scoreboards, ropes and even food for players.

Only rarely will a player dispute an official’s ruling. Most PGA Tour players learned the game as youngsters and understood early that, unlike most modern sports, golf is not an &uot;in-your-face&uot; game.

Thursday, before the opening round, I was privileged to ride the course with PGA Tour official Steve Rintoul as he set the tee and pin placements.

There is nothing haphazard about this duty. It is absolutely necessary that pin placements match those on the charts given the players each day.

Great care is used in making sure that the tee markers on each hole are correctly placed as a guide to the proper landing area on each hole.

Steve is an Aussie from Sydney who played collegiately at Oregon. After a couple of years playing on the PGA Tour, he became a rules official on the Nationwide Tour, then moved up the regular PGA Tour about five years ago. He now lives in Tampa, Fla.

It was quite cold and windy the day morning I rode with Steve Rintoul and was dark when he started his duties, but he was completely focused and professional the whole time, even when the first group of players (a twosome) almost caught up.

Here is the detail on the ruling Arvin Ginn had to make regarding Paul Azinger.

Azinger was playing in an important tournament only a couple of years after his recovery from cancer, and the end of the third round found Azinger only two shots out of the lead with a real shot of winning or at least cashing a large check.

Paul was in the media room giving interviews when it was brought to Ginn’s attention that Azinger had not signed his scorecard.

As Paul left the interviews, Arvin Ginn just showed him the scorecard and had to tell him essentially, &uot;Paul, you know there’s nothing we can do.&uot; Disqualification was the only option as the rule was quite clear, but delivering the verdict had to be real hard.

Melanie Christopher told me how the SFB Classic enticed Paul Azinger to play in this year’s tournament and she also said she actually plays golf a time or two yearly in charity events.

With a 17-month-old baby and her busy broadcasting schedule, I wonder that she can play golf at all. Melanie is every bit as pretty and nice in person as she is on the air, and is quite interested and knowledgeable about all sports.

And that’s official.

Al Graning is a former SEC official and former Natchez resident. You can reach him at