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The New Normal for Running PDGA-Sanctioned Tournaments

July 23, 2020

See those trusty scoreport cards? Maybe you don’t need them. Photo: Alyssa Van Lanen

Like most tournament directors, I learned the basics of the trade from a previous TD, who in turn learned it from an earlier TD. We’ve all added our own tips and tricks along the way, but the overall format of a standard tournament has remained largely unchanged over the years: Show up an hour early, stand in line at the check-in table to sign our player cards and get our players packs, come back for the players meeting where the TD shouts instructions while standing on top of a picnic table, sprint up to the scoreboard to see what hole we start on, and rush out to the course to wait for the two-minute warning. 

This has all been fine. It’s worked for thousands of tournaments per year for decades, and it would continue to work for years to come. Some people might argue that if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it; we do it the way we do it because that’s the way we’ve always done it. But on the other hand, the world moves forward, and we can move forward with it.

Universal acceptance of online tournament registration has been the biggest change to running a tournament in the last decade. Twenty years ago you had to mail a check to the TD (Mail? Check? What are those?) or show up in the morning and hope to get a spot in the front of the line. Now it’s a couple of mouse clicks and you’re in. 

More recent changes that have affected how we run tournaments are the improvements to the PDGA Tournament Manager and Digital Scorecard. Players and TDs are starting to embrace electronic scoring, and feedback has been largely positive.

A silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic has been that it has forced TDs to re-examine more of their tournament procedures. Do we have to hold player check-in in the same way that we always have? Do we actually have to hold a players’ meeting on the morning of a tournament? Do we really need to use paper player cards on a scoreboard? 

After running a couple of local one-day C-tiers and talking to other TDs, my answer to all of those questions is a hard “no.”

What started out as COVID protocol quickly had me thinking, “Why haven’t I been doing it this way the whole time?” This might not work for every course or for every tournament, but I think this creates a great blueprint of how to improve all our future tournaments, even after the COVID threat has passed.

Let’s break down a couple of tournament procedures step-by-step and show where we can improve:

Player check-in

Evaluate new methods of having players check in with the TD in the morning. Some tournaments have started implementing drive-through check-in as cars pull into the parking lot to adhere to PDGA Competition Manual requirements. If you’ve already distributed all the appropriate information to your players ahead of time, do you really need to have them come by a table?

Find new ways to collect waivers. With online pre-registration, it’s unnecessary to have players sign waivers in the morning. If your local park needs any specific verbiage, it can be included in the waiver section that players agree to when they submit their registration.

Distribute information digitally. Caddie books and rule sheets can be emailed, posted online, and included in the hole notes in the Digital Scorecard. You can place a stack of rule sheets at HQ and allow players to pick them up at will.

Rethink players packs. Can they be distributed in another fashion at another time? This one is indeed tricky to do without seeing every player face-to-face. You could try strategies such as drive-through pickup, online vouchers, or post-round pickup.

Players’ meeting

Evaluate whether you need to hold an in-person players’ meeting. You can alternately post a players’ meeting to the event website or a service such as YouTube several days before the tournament with all the necessary information for the players. If your event uses tee times, a single, in-person players’ meeting is almost impossible to schedule anyway.

Use the Groups feature in Tournament Manager. With this tool, you can publish the next round layout and start time, email all your players with all details of the tournament, a printable caddie book, a printable scorecard, a link to the course map, and a link to the PDGA results page.

Have a plan for last-minute changes to the course rules. If it’s a last-minute change to a specific hole, you can post a sign at the tee pad describing the change. It’s always a good idea to distribute any new information in as many methods as possible. Send an extra email, include it in the hole notes on Digital Scorecard, and post an extra sign at the affected tee pad. Make sure the verbiage is consistent among all methods of communication.

Distribute all information through multiple avenues. This is the natural flow from the point above: Give players the most opportunity for success possible, and don’t punish a competitor for missing a piece of information that was only posted in one place at one time.Include consistent information in both email and online presentations. Display informative signs at HQ. Leave stacks of caddie books at HQ for players to pick up. 

Make sure players know who you are. Include your face in the video so players will know where to go for questions. Describe where “tournament central” will be located (even if it won’t look like the tournament central of old) and what information they can find there. 

Don’t forget the sponsors. You can recognize tournament supporters with a shout-out or full commercial in your YouTube players’ meeting. Link to them in a player email, show them love in the caddie book, and recognize them with signs on the course. 

Morning-of changes or registrations

Evaluate whether you want to accept walk-ups or allow players to change divisions on the day of the tournament. If you are not going to allow day-of changes/registrations, make that very clear on the registration page: “Tournament will be set in stone on Friday night at 8 p.m. I will NOT accept any walk-up registrations or division changes on Saturday morning!”

For a more professional feel, publish the groups/tee times the night before. Tell your players it’s their responsibility to “show up and go to your starting hole.” This saves the TD the trouble of having to shuffle the cards 20 minutes before the start of the tournament or having to rerun the finances during the tournament.

During the tournament

Use the PDGA Digital Scorecard. Players are starting to get used to digital scoring by this point, and it’s been an absolute game-changer. Round two starting holes and tee times can be published within minutes of the round one scores being turned in.

Testimonials

Implementing these changes resulted in a tournament that was easier to host, faster, more efficient, more accurate, and had better communication. But don’t just take my word for it:

“I ran The Challenge at Goat Hill Park on June 18-20 as a COVID-modified event,” Tournament Director Allen Risley said, “and it was so much easier in many ways (on the days of the event).” 

Players have also enjoyed the benefits of smoother check-in and scoring procedures:

  • “Online meeting and attached course information sheets is the new normal. Great job on that.” – Alan Beaver
  • “I just wanted to tell you that my boys and I thought the electronic meeting was perfect and that everything seemed to work well. We had all the information we needed readily available.” – Jeff Samsel

Based on your feedback, the PDGA Technology Team will continue to improve and enhance the digital PDGA event administrative tools, so if you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to us at [email protected]. The PDGA Event staff can always be reached at [email protected].

While all these recommendations are intended to encourage TDs to think about how they run normal tournaments, the PDGA still offers explicit guidance for events operating during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Any player who has tested positive for COVID-19, or who has experienced symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should immediately consult a physician for treatment. The player should stay isolated until symptoms have fully resolved. Furthermore, the PDGA Medical Committee recommends the player should rest and not attend PDGA events for an additional two weeks after symptoms have fully resolved, and thereafter should gradually resume physical activities as directed by their physician.

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