After decades of swinging golf clubs in untold tournaments, I thought I’d experienced every format. After all, there have been the scrambles, shambles, four-balls, individual stroke and match play, couples tournaments and even nighttime golf events.
But there’s never been a three-day outing where defeating each others’ four-person teams is replaced by the fun and camaraderie I’ve found since 2017 at the annual Wagner and Friends event held at the four-star Lodge of Four Seasons Resort in Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.
Here, your four-person scramble team can win even with the highest scores.
Rather than cutthroat competition, it’s all about fun and chilling out. Even at that, about a third of all who attend walk away with part of the donated pot, regardless of triple bogeys or eagles.
I can’t really define this gathering as a tournament. Now in its 21st year, it began as a golf-palooza of sorts at the Shangri-La Resort in Grove, Okla., when the extended Wagner family began playing with friends.
At the Lodge of Four Seasons Resort for the past six years, about 50 Wagners and participants gathered in mid-May for a barbecue lunch followed by 18 holes on the Robert Trent Jones-designed Cove course.
Those were followed by daily rounds on the nearby championship Ridge course on Saturday and Sunday.
Back to the fun. If we can agree the most rewarding purpose for such gatherings is the sharing, laughs and friendship rather than winning still more golf equipment at the pro shop (doesn’t every player already have enough?), then it makes sense to have a « non-tournament tournament » based on that premise.
The intent behind the Wagner is to not fret over a score. Here, when scorecards are turned in, a special computer program throws every player’s name from each team into a big pot while randomly reassigning each to a new team.
So there’s never a need for anyone to be less than honest since, hey, it doesn’t matter.
The new winning teams are announced to everyone’s surprise. If our team shot a 65, each of the four members received that score. But the computer reshuffling might land you on a team where your three new teammates shot mid-70s. The lowest three new teams are winners.
This approach gives everyone the same chance.
One 33-year-old player and partner, Travis Schultz of Kimberling City, Mo., labeled it the chance to gather for a weekend of « recreational nonsense. »
He also was referring to the game as it is played by so-called « Wagner Rules. » Those can include moving your team’s balls, within reason, to a preferable nearby location, pulling out of pesky sand traps and an occasional mulligan.
What do such loose rules accomplish? Well, they keep frustrations to a minimum, allow for lots of laughs, and lift any pressure to grind over breaking 10-foot putts.
None of that matters when tally time arrives. My first year at the Wagner five years ago introduced me to the approach where three days of fun and camaraderie took precedence over everything else.
Sure, it’s still golf, and we all want to play well. We still hit great and bad shots, hoping to shoot a low score simply as part of the enjoyment and satisfaction. It’s just that Wagner Rules take the pressure away while letting everyone relax.
Plus, when all the score cards are submitted Sunday afternoon and everyone gathers on the patio to learn where the chips fell, all players have respectable odds at having their name randomly drawn to win $50.
The three winning teams each get $200, or $50 a player, and they give the same prizes for closest to the hole on par-3s. This year, they even drew two $100 winners to close out the weekend.
All the contributed money is paid out in prizes, which means more individual prizes are handed out than I’ve seen in any regular tournament.
This year, the computer guru was absent. So they simply gathered every team’s scorecard and randomly drew three as the winners.
The event is annually organized to the tee by Jeremy Wagner, the son of original participant and co-founder « Big Bill » Wagner, 71, of Springfield. Jeremy begins planning in January when all who want to take part send $100 to secure their spot and provide prize money.
By my calculations, that brought $5,000 to spread around this year. Jeremy also arranges for a special Wagner rate through the lodge that includes two nights of nice rooms, buffet breakfasts and three rounds of golf with carts, all of which runs each golfer about $350.
As time has marched on, I’ve found I only want to enjoy my time on any course. That means playing team golf rather than feeling any need to prove myself individually.
My only goal at the Wagner is simply to enjoy: The outing, my friends, striking a ball, laughing often, eating well, the lodge pool and perhaps, at the end of the day, being fortunate enough to take away a prize just for having the opportunity to be there.
Like to know more and perhaps become part of the fun next year? Check the Facebook page Wagner & Friends Golf Outing.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master’s journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]