The Buffalo District Golf Association came into existence in the 1920s. Its purpose is to serve as a regional wing of the United States Golf Association (USGA) for tournaments, course ratings and other, sundry tasks. From the early 1970s until the early 2000s, one name was synonymous with the BDGA: Whitey Nichols. Nichols’ tenure as director of the organization may have been the longest in the association’s history. Since then, Fred Hartrick, Tom Sprague and now, Mark Rydza have manned the helm of the BDGA. Current executive director Mark Rydza took time out of his winter golf to answer a few of our questions.
1. Introduce yourself and tell us your story of golf: how it grabbed you and how you’ve been involved ever since.
My name is Mark Rydza and I am the new Executive Director of the Buffalo District Golf Association. Before I say a little bit about myself, I would like to say “Thank You” to Tom Sprague, the previous Executive Director. He did a great job and has helped me out immensely. He will stay involved with the BDGA volunteering when he can, but mostly he will be spending time with his family, especially his grandkids. Best wishes Tom!
I have been involved in golf ever since I got out of college. I did not play high school or college golf, but just started playing and got “hooked” (as most of us did at some point) in my early 20s. I just started playing, and liking it more and more. As I improved, I started playing in local amateur tournaments, which is always a lot of fun. I did OK sometimes, other times not so good! But I always enjoyed it. The last 10 years or so my game has slipped, so I do not play in many events. But I always enjoy playing!
After working in business for several years, I decided to become a teacher. I was hired at Royalton-Hartland High School in 1998 as a math teacher, and immediately became the varsity golf coach, along with boys’ varsity basketball. I did both for 26 years (along with being the Athletic Director for 8 years) until I retired in June of 2014. While I was coaching golf, Tom, who is also a former high school golf coach, had mentioned to me that he might be stepping down soon, and wondered if I would be interested in taking over. So during the summer of 2014, I contacted Tom and asked him about the position, and here I am!
2. So you’ve coached high school golfers. What did you learn from them, from that experience?
Coaching high school golf was certainly a lot of fun. Unfortunately my school was located in an area where there were not many golf courses and opportunities for kids to play. So I was working with a lot of beginners. I did have a few good players, but mainly it was kids that were learning the basics of the game. Getting kids to understand the rules (and the self-officiating of the game) was probably the most difficult thing. But the association with the kids, other coaches, etc was a great experience. There is nothing like coaching. With kids, you never know what is coming next! That’s what makes it fun.
3. Tell us a bit about the Buffalo District Golf Association’s history.
The BDGA has been around since 1921. It is maybe, to the best of my knowledge, the second oldest Regional Golf Association in the country (Philadelphia area has the oldest). The reason the association was founded was to crown an individual men’s champion for the Buffalo area. Included in the Buffalo area is the Southern Tier and Canada’s Niagara Peninsula. Shortly after, a women’s championship came into being, then a senior championship, and so forth. Over the years, many other championships have been played in the BDGA, including a Mid-Am (over 25 years old), team championships, husband/wife, parent/child, match play, scramble and junior golf events. Most of these are still being played presently. The BDGA has one of the strongest traditions of any golf association in the country.
So many great champions have won events, too many to name. The list would be very long. If I named one, I will have to name hundreds. However, over the next couple of years, I hope to get the history of the BDGA and results of older tournaments on the website so people can look up all of these great champions at their leisure.
4. What have you learned since taking over as executive director that took you by surprise?
How many people perceive the BDGA as an organization just for the “elite” golfers of Western New York. One of my main goals is to change that perception. Certainly our featured event is the Men’s Individual Championship (August 1, 2, 3 at Transit Valley CC this year). However, there are all kinds of events for all levels of golfers. We have women’s events, senior events, a scramble, better ball, class B and C events, and junior events. Events are being scheduled now. I urge everyone to check the schedule on our website (buffdga.org) in March or April.
5. Why should area golfers play in BDGA events?
As mentioned, the BDGA has events for everyone. We are all different. Some people like to play serious, competitive golf. Others just like to relax and enjoy being on the course. No matter what type of golfer you are, you can find an event that suits you. I believe our prices are very reasonable. We always have food after the event. Playing in these events gives golfers an opportunity to play other courses that they may not normally play and play with people they may not normally play with. I believe that one of the positive aspects of golf is the social aspect – getting to meet lots of people who have a common bond with you. Lots of friendships have been started with a round of golf!
6. Local associations are responsible for the course ratings we see on score cards. Walk us through the process of rating a course.
Course ratings used to be done by a group of guys that would go out and play a course and determine how easy or difficult it was. It was purely subjective. It is now done in a completely opposite way. It is all done by measuring distances and having those distances plugged into a mathematical formula. The USGA, which runs the course rating system, decided it needed to come up with a consistent method. It is very complicated, but it is based on the following – landing areas for the scratch golfer (which will determine the course rating) and bogie golfer (which will determine the slope) are found. From there, distances are measured to hazards, bunkers, OB, high rough, and then to the green (elevation changes also considered). Green difficulty is determined by size, bunkers or hazards around it, undulation, etc. All of this information then gets plugged into a computer program which will determine the courses and course rating. Even though all of this is entered, the most important factor in determining difficulty of a hole and course is length. The longer the course, the more likely it is going to have a more difficult slope and rating.
Note – The course rating system does not determine the handicaps of the individual holes. That is totally up to each individual course or club. Some courses rate their holes strictly by length, some by difficulty, some put par 3’s at the bottom, and so forth. There is no right or wrong way. It is up to the philosophy of the individual course.
7. What does the future (or at least 2016) hold for the BDGA?
To be honest, the BDGA has been barely hanging on. The BDGA is a not-for-profit organization that exists to serve the golfers of Western New York. Every penny goes back to the golfing community. Unfortunately, the numbers have been diminishing over the years. The number of golfers playing in tournaments has been dropping (and this is a national trend, not just here). The number of courses willing to hold tournaments has decreased. The number of sponsors we have had has dropped. And of course costs keep rising. The amount of money it costs to run an office just keeps going up. Our rent was just raised. Insurance, computer costs, and things of that nature keep increasing. It is becoming more and more difficult. As mentioned, the BDGA has a strong tradition and we want to keep that going. The BDGA is about the golfers and the courses they play at. Everyone needs to get more involved. If we can get an increase in participation, cooperation from clubs and courses and the backing of local business and communities, the BDGA can get back to what it once was. The more participation we have, the more we can give back to the golfer.
I would like to ask those people that do participate in local amateur golf and know of the BDGA to spread the word about us. We all know the best advertising is word-of-mouth, so your help in letting people know about us would be greatly appreciated. If you play in one of our tournaments this year, try to bring a new person with you. As mentioned, the more people that participate, the stronger we become, which benefits all golfers.
8. How can people contact/communicate with the BDGA?
The BDGA can assist with anything involving the game of golf, or at least find resources to help with any question or situation that arises with golfers or clubs. The preferable method of contact is via email, which is email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also call at 716-632-0151, although we are not always in the office. Please continue to check our website as we add and edit it regularly.
Additionally, the BDGA has an email list in which information is sent to everyone regularly. If you are not on the list and would like to receive emails, please send your email address to us and we will add you to our list.
I would like to thank everyone that has helped the BDGA over the years, and participated in the tournaments we have run. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.