by Jim Riggs
September 29, 1979
I am referring to the reverse Golf Tournament that I was invited to play in last Sunday at Conewango Forks Country Club. It is just what the name implies – you play the course in reverse and it makes for a wild time.
Conewango Forks’ member Bowen is the one who got the tournament going a few years ago. Bowen says he was sitting around the clubhouse with some friends and they had nothing to do. Someone made the tongue-in-cheek suggestion that they play the course backwards. An insane idea like that should never be mentioned in front of Bowen. He proved his skill as a “surgeon” by removing that tongue from the cheek by going out and playing the course backwards. Now the insane idea has become an annual event.
You start at a tee off area placed beside the 18th green and shoot to the 17th green. Then you go from the 17th green to the 16th green and so on until you finish 18 holes. What you come up with are some wild golf holes since you are coming into the greens from different directions. Greens that normally slant toward you now slant away. The traps are in the back of the green instead of in front and sometimes the only way to reach a green is crash through the woods. Another handicap is that there is no yardage or markers on the holes so club selection becomes guesswork. Picture playing your favorite course backwards and you get the idea.
Regular play is not allowed at Conewango Forks the day of the tournament and for a good reason. It would be like driving the wrong way on a one-way street during rush hour. If a few poor souls somehow got on the course and began playing the right way the result could be disastrous. Ambulance crews would be busy picking up survivors featuring the name brands of the golf ball imprinted in reverse on their foreheads.
Playing Conewango Forks backwards was not that unusual to me since I had never played the course frontwards. What I discovered was that some of the backwards holes are excellent challenges of golf and if I didn’t know I was going the wrong way I wouldn’t have noticed anything wrong. But of course there are a few holes, like the one elevated par three with an apple tree directly in front of the green, that would make one wonder if the course architect was Steve Martin.
What I couldn’t understand was that if it was a reverse tournament why wouldn’t everything be in reverse? I thought the high score would win. I figured penalty strokes would be deducted from my score instead of added. I also considered driving with my putter and working down to putting with my driver. I could also picture everyone yelling ”Aft!”, instead of “Fore!” But the only change was playing winter rules in the rough which is a good idea since when playing backwards many of the “fairways” are entirely rough.
The most amazing thing about the tournament was the scores. Because of the need to drive through woods, lack of yardage and the other drawbacks listed above, scores in the 70’s are rare. But there are always a few who can play excellent golf under any conditions and one of those players was this year’s champion Dick Cole. He is the CFCC Club Champion and he now holds that honor for playing the layout backwards. He beat the old record of 75 by shooting 39-33-72. It is hard enough to shoot 72 playing the course going the right direction so shooting that score backwards is unreal. Particularly since there is only one opportunity a year to do it.
I take pride in the fact that on the average I shoot in the 70 but definitely not when playing backwards. I hacked my way to a smooth 97. Of course when you read that backwards it becomes a 79.
Bowen, who was one of the players in the 70’s, believes this is the only tournament of its kind in the area. However, I have a feeling other courses will now give it a try. Once you play backwards it becomes addictive. While watching golf on television or actually playing you often hear the comment, “This is a great hole.” Now I find myself adding “I wonder what it would be like backwards?”