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As golf booms, Austin leagues help players get tee times

Tim Schmitt
Golfweek
Scottie Scheffler plays from the greenside bunker on the third hole as caddy Ted Scott looks on during the final round of the WM Phoenix Open golf tournament. The former Texas star won the tournament for his first PGA Tour victory.

Although the object of the game is to keep numbers low, Eddie Nunez sees them rising. Consistently.

As the tournament director for the Central Texas Golf Association, an Austin-based group of regular amateur golfers who play a 32-event schedule, Nunez has seen the group’s number of participants continue to jump. And he’s seen an issue that’s accompanied the game’s resurgence through the pandemic.

“These courses are booming,” Nunez said. “It’s more and more difficult to find a place to play, and the prices keep increasing everywhere.”

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The CTGA has already seen an uptick in participation during its current season, with Nunez estimating that 25 new players have jumped aboard the loop, which plays 11 of its 32 events on muni courses. This weekend, for example, the group will make a stop at Morris Williams Golf Course in East Austin.

And why wouldn’t more players join? Getting tee times throughout the region is becoming more difficult and being a member of a local league assures players a chance to enjoy the game.

“It’s definitely one of the reasons people keep joining,” said Nunez, who has lived in the Austin area since 1982. “The guys don’t have to worry about getting tee times and we travel around quite a bit, so they get to see courses they might not typically see.”

The most recent event was held in Salado at Mill Creek Golf Club, while the circuit also makes stops in Burnet, New Braunfels and Seguin.

The game keeps booming, that’s for certain. Recent news came from the National Golf Foundation that rounds of golf have gone up across all demographics since the pandemic began in March of 2020, mainly because it was one of the few activities that remained open, even in areas that had the most severe shutdowns, because it could be played outdoors under social distancing conditions.

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The NGF reported that December rounds nationwide increased two percent over December of 2020, for a net increase of 5.5% for the year. Golfers played 25 million more rounds in 2021 than in 2020.

As for Nunez, who has been retired for more than two decades after working at Motorola, he’s living the dream — mostly retired, playing golf, running a golf league and working a couple of days a week at Roy Kizer as a marshal. He also happened to capture the top flight in the Fall Classic last year, the league’s final tournament of the year.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” Nunez said. “All of them.”

Bubba Watson’s former caddie helps Scottie Scheffler in first win

When Scottie Scheffler heard that Bubba Watson and caddie Ted Scott had parted ways in the fall, Scheffler figured it was worth a call to see what Scott, who had been on the bag for Watson’s two Masters victories and double-digit wins, planned to do next. After all, it’s not every day that a veteran caddie with Scott’s resume becomes available.

Scheffler, 25, and Scott had met in bible study a year earlier and Scheffler got to know him best during the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in late April when Scheffler partnered with Watson in the two-man team event.

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“I already thought the world of him as a person,” Scheffler said.

Scott said he thought he was done with caddying, but that changed when his phone rang.

“He called me up and said, ‘I really want to work with a Christian.’ That’s how I try to live my life,” Scott said on Sunday. “The other thing he said was, ‘I really like competing.’ I said, ‘I like competing.’ Thought it could be a fun thing. We hashed out the details.”

They did a trial run at the RSM Classic in November. Scheffler shot 63 in the first round. Scheffler finished second at the Hero World Challenge in December. In just their fifth tournament together, Scott paid his biggest dividend last week at the WM Phoenix Open as Scheffler rallied on the back-nine and outlasted Patrick Cantlay to claim his first PGA Tour title.

That Scheffler, who at No. 9 moved into the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time this week, hadn’t won already was mystifying.

“I do think I was making it a little bit hard,” Scheffler conceded on Tuesday during his pre-tournament press conference ahead of the Genesis Invitational. “I think at certain points in some of those final rounds I’d make a few mistakes and maybe get down a little bit. I wouldn’t say I felt out of it last week, but I just kept telling myself there’s going to be bumps in the road and I gave myself on Sunday way too many bumps.”

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Birdies and bogeys

• Speaking of Scheffler, he arrived at The American Express tournament three weeks ago with a new driver in his bag, a TaylorMade Stealth Plus+ with 8 degrees of loft fitted with a Fujikura Ventus Black shaft. After playing his third PGA Tour event with it, he won Sunday at the WM Phoenix Open. So how's the new driver performing? In the three events when Scheffler has used the Stealth Plus+, his average ball speed off the tee has been 178.37 mph, which is up from 174.55. Last week at TPC Scottsdale, his driving distance average was 327.9 yards, which was eighth-best in the field.

• Clayton King, a transfer from the now defunct St. Edward’s men's golf team, was the top Texas State finisher at the recent Mobile Bay Intercollegiate in Mobile, Ala. King tied for 18th at 1-under par, in front of three top-100 ranked players.

• The recent winter storm wiped the Texas Golf Association’s Jimmy Demaret Junior Classic off the schedule. The statewide event was slated to be held on Feb. 5 and 6 at Crystal Falls in Leander. Organizers are hoping to reschedule the event.

Tim Schmitt is the managing editor for Golfweek, golf coordinator for the USA Today Network and lives in Round Rock. Golfweek’s Adam Schupak also contributed to this report.