What’s With the Charity Scramble Cheating?

Dear Molly: There’s a charity scramble I like to play in every year because I care about the organization that benefits. But I’m so tired of seeing the same players win, year in and year out. I can’t help thinking there’s some cheating going on. What can I do, other than suck it up and be gracious?

Nooooo! Cheating for charity? Well, unfortunately, yesssss. It does happen.

I was covering golf for the San Francisco Examiner when I played in my first charity pro-am as a random fill-in with a local pro golfer and three of his friends. They’d won two years in a row, and I benefitted happily when their streak became a hattrick. A little while after I picked out a digital camera from the prize table, the tournament director said, “You know, some people think they’re cheating. Did you notice anything?” Not only did I not notice anything, I paid no attention to the scoring because I hardly understood it! I still feel guilty about that. A little guilty. I did not know I was supposed to be monitoring the champs.

Of course, as golfers, we should have enough integrity not to need monitoring. But a prize table containing a 90-inch TV, an electric cart and a simulator can test anyone’s integrity, especially when the beer is free! Which is why Sanctuary Golf Course, owned and operated by RE/MAX founders Dave and Gail Liniger solely to host fundraisers (and, of course, their friends), keeps prizes sensible.

“We tell our groups not to make the prizes exorbitant – there may be hole flags signed by Mr. and Mrs. Liniger, or Children’s Hospital sometimes has a piece of art by one of their patients, or if it’s gift cards, not to exceed $100 in the golf shop,” says head golf professional Rudy Zupetz. “Still, sadly, cheating is a problem. If you have good players, you can have a hot day. But you can’t do that every year.”

Sanctuary rarely has scrambles because players want to play their own ball in exchange for the substantial donation that gets them into the tournament. The course’s compromise is the shamble, where the team goes to the spot of the best drive and then each plays his or her own ball from there. But both scrambles and shambles give license to stretch the rules because no one from the competition is there to watch; it’s just you and your team.

It’s also common for nonprofits to sell mulligan packages and string. Buy three mulligans, you may lose count and use five mulligans. And with the string, any ball inside that distance to the hole is considered in. Rudy would like to discontinue the mulligan and string, neither of which appears in the Rules of Golf.

But of course charity events are not about playing by the rules. “It’s about enjoying the company you’re keeping, celebrating the great cause you’re supporting, and having fun,” says Rudy. He’s as fed up with cheating as you are and has taken to the course to keep an eye on the usual suspects. You could suggest to your organizers that they monitor the repeat winners.

Other alternatives include sending two competing foursomes out together, or selecting a place number randomly to be declared the “winner.” Imagine: “Yay, we finished ninth and won the tournament.” One Sanctuary group that used to use the top two scores per hole of each foursome switched off to first and third.

I suggest you put some of these ideas in the ear of your tournament organizer, and then let it go. Yes, suck it up and be gracious. You’re getting to play golf in Colorado with friends to support a deserving cause. Consider that your win! And check out our list of 2023 charity tournaments for more opportunities.

Molly McMulligan, created by golf journalist and CGA member Susan Fornoff, is the CGA’s on-the-course advisor on how to have more fun on the golf course. You don’t want to take swing lessons from Molly, but if you’ve got a question about etiquette, relationships or the culture of golf in Colorado, Molly will find the answer. Send your questions along here.


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