Mike Kutcher: Keeper of the Scoreboard

One of the more charming traditions of a golf tournament is its hand-drawn scoreboard.  Although electronic scoreboards can be found throughout the golf course, the hand-drawn scoreboard survives, thanks to actual human beings like Mike Kutcher.  I was admiring Mike’s handiwork last year at the Ensure Classic at Rock Barn, a Champions Tour event held in Conover, NC.  Mike was gracious enough to put down his Sharpie for an hour and explain to me why there’s nothing “magic” about his work with markers.  And whatever you do, DON’T call it “calligraphy”!

Mike Kutcher

Mike Kutcher: Technology plays a big part in helping me score a golf tournament.  It’s much easier to get the scores to me to put up.  As opposed to the old days – old days: five, six years ago…

(laughter)

… where you just took the walking scores after nine holes, tore off a slip of paper, and that’s how I got my information.

GolfConversations: It would seem there’s more chance of human error there.  Did you ever have a situation where one of the walkers wrote down the wrong score and gave it to you?

MK: Oh, yeah. That still happens.  Technology hasn’t changed that.  You can still miscount the strokes or put in the wrong score.  I’ve had walking scorers put Player A’s score under Player B and vice versa.

That’s all part of the process … every score that gets turned in before the player finishes and signs his score card, is unofficial.  Until the scorecard is signed and delivered in the scoring area, everything is just, basically, hearsay. Anything I put up before the player signs his scorecard and turns it in, it’s all unofficial.  And it can be fixed.

GC: Are you standing in front of the scoreboard all the time?

MK: No. Once I put the sheets on the scoreboard with all the players’ names on it, I wait for information to come to me from the walking scorers.  There’s a person – a volunteer – that goes out with every group and keeps each player’s score in, like a little Palm Pilot.

GC: Right, I’ve seen those.

MK: Every time the player hits a shot, the walking scorer puts a stroke down in the Palm Pilot.  It does two things: it keeps track of their score and it keeps track of statistics.  Did they play from the rough or did they play from the fairway? Did they play from the bunker?  So at the end of the day, after they count up all their strokes, they can also determine how many fairways this guy hit, how many greens he hit, how many sand saves he has, how many putts … so all the statistics are kept in the Palm Pilot as the guy is playing.

GC: Is this ShotLink?

MK: That’s ShotLink.  At the end of the hole, the computer adds up how many strokes he took and it goes into the system and it comes up on the computer screen.  I get my information from the computer after the group finishes 9 holes.  And that’s what I put up on the scoreboard.

GC: Does someone give you a print-out that lists the scores?

MK: We work it different ways; it depends on the logistics of the situation.  I usually get it from a central scoring place.  If that area is close to the scoreboard, I’ll just walk over whenever I want to get scores of whoever’s finished 9 holes and hand write them up there.

If central scoring is located far away from the scoreboard, they’ll have volunteers bring me the information.  On those days, I stay at the scorecard most of the time and they just keep running information to me as they get it.

GC: And those scores are not official?

MK: They’re 90% correct but if the walking scorer forgot to put in a penalty stroke – or sometimes they think it’s a two-stroke penalty instead of a one-stroke penalty.  At the end of the round, the players go into a scoring area.  They go over their scorecard … most of the time, they’ll bring in the walking scorer with the electronics and they’ll double-check what they’ve got on their card against what the walking scorer has.

GC: That’s interesting.

MK: So that’s a check.  The caddies usually keep track of the player’s score on a hole location sheet.  So there are two or three backup systems for the player to check when he comes in.  And once that score is checked, he signs his card, his marker signs the card.  At some point, either a copy of that scorecard or an electronically-generated copy of the scorecard comes to me.  Then we go back through the 9-holes that I’ve already got up there and double-check to make sure those are the correct scores.

GC: Let’s say you were given an incorrect score on the 7th hole – it should have been a “6” instead of the “5” you wrote down. You learn about the mistake several hours later.  Do you erase what you wrote on the scoreboard?

MK: The nice thing about the way it’s put up there … I’ve got extra sheets and I just cut out the square of Hole #7, paste over it, re-write the number and nobody ever knows it was changed.

GC: A real cut-and-paste job!

(laughter)

MK: A real-live cut-and-paste!

GC: What kind of glue do you use?

MK: Whatever I can get at the local office supply store.

(laughter)

No, I’ve got a case with all my glue sticks and markers, ink, scissors and staplers.  Just a little tool box that carries everything.

GC: Tell me how you got started doing this.

MK: I was an assistant golf pro making hardly any money at all. I had a wife and a young daughter.

GC: Where was this?

MK: Park City, Utah. Up in the mountains.  I skied.  I was teaching skiing in the wintertime for six months.  I needed a job in the summer.  There were a couple of golf courses in town so I hooked up with one of them.  Did that for one summer.  The head pro offered me a position to keep coming back there summer after summer.  So I did.  I worked my way through the PGA of America program.  But working there as an assistant pro, I wasn’t getting paid very much.

GC: What year was this?

MK: 1982 was my first year at the golf course.  We were 45 minutes from Salt Lake City and we had a lot of corporate outings at our golf course.  They were kind of a pain in the butt to put on – organizational things and running them from start to finish.  Nobody was really that interested in being involved in it.  The guy I worked for – the head professional – he didn’t want to deal with it.  So he put it off on me and said, “I’ll pay you for it.”

He paid me $1 a head for every golf outing that I did.  It involved scheduling the event, making sure the tee sheets were blocked off for the correct times, keeping in touch with the organizers, getting the names, writing the scorecards and the little signs that go on the carts, and then the last thing was keeping score for the event.  Everybody wanted their event scored.

So I started doing that for $1 a player.  And that almost doubled my salary.

GC: It’s odd that no one wanted to do this.  You’d think outings would be a nice additional source of income for the club.

MK: It was a great source of income. The club definitely wanted it.  But all the guys in golf shop wanted to be playing golf, teaching golf, or being away and doing something else.

GC: I see.

MK: And it was very time consuming.  On the day of the tournament, you had to be there early and stay until after they were done and clean up.

GC: That’s a huge job.

MK: Looking back on it, $1 a player wasn’t nearly enough.  But … it was enough for me.  So that’s what I did.  And I started getting interested in tournaments.

GC: Which course was this is Park City?

MK: It was the Park City Municipal Golf Course.

GC: They used to have a Senior event in Park City, didn’t they?

MK: And that’s the next part of the story.  A local group from Salt Lake put on a Senior Tour event.  It was at a golf course 10 minutes from my golf course. They had a local guy from Salt Lake doing the outside scoreboard.  But they also had a press tent and they were always looking for somebody local to help out there.

I knew the guy in Salt Lake who was doing the outside scoreboard; he offered to let me do the inside board and see how it worked.  So I did.  And I got hooked.  This was the ultimate level of tournament organization.  So I started getting to know some of the people from the PGA Tour that went around the country and did this every week.  I did that for a few years.

GC: You did the…

MK: The Senior Tour press room there.  Every summer.

GC: And you were still working…

MK: And I was still working as an assistant pro.  This was all part-time stuff.

GC: And you were skiing…

MK: And still teaching skiing in the wintertime.

GC: Two things I need lessons in: skiing and golf.  I’m talking to the right guy!

(laughter)

MK: But it became very obvious that the ski industry had its limitations as far as how you could make money.  Whereas with golf, you could play and make money … you could teach and make money … you could own and run a golf shop and make money … you could run tournaments and make money.

GC: I’m trying to figure out how to run a golf web site and make money.

(laughter)

MK: There were dozens of different directions to go in the golf business to build a career.  Skiing was very narrow.  So I started taking more interest in golf.  When the Hogan Tour came out in 1990, our PGA section signed up for three or four years to run a tournament.

GC: A Hogan event?

MK: Yes.  That was right up my alley.  They wanted pros from the section to come and help.  I jumped in with both feet.  That very first year, I met a guy who was doing the scoreboard.  He did a lot of PGA Tour events, LPGA Tour events.  That’s what he did for a living: he traveled around and did scoreboards for all the different tours.

GC: What was his name?

MK: Irv Batten.  He had been doing it for years.  He was a crusty, old … well he wasn’t that old …

GC: But he was crusty?

(laughter)

Irv Batten He was older than me and relatively crusty.  I spent the week with him. He was a professional.  This was the perfect guy for me to almost do an apprenticeship with for the week.

GC: What year was this?

MK: 1990.

GC: How did you know that you could do calligraphy?  Is that what it’s called?  Calligraphy?

MK: Everybody calls it calligraphy.  But a person who really has that skill would be offended at calling what I do calligraphy.  What I do is print.  I print and try to make it as consistent as possible; readability is the most important thing.

One of the first lessons I got in scoreboard stuff was … A guy I knew did a scoreboard in beautiful Olde English and he said that all he could hear from behind him was that nobody could read the board because it was so fancy.

GC: Keep it simple.

MK: Keep it simple, readable, and accurate.  So that’s what I did.  The guy I learned from, Irv, he was very good.  He had a lot of artistic ability but everything he did was very basic, straightforward, and readable. So that was the path I took.

The other thing that’s also necessary is speed.  If you’re gonna take four hours to print up 78 names … you’re getting paid a certain wage for the week to do your job.  You can spend as much time as you want with it, but the longer you spend writing up those names on the board and start figuring out what you’re making per hour, it starts going down drastically.

GC: You call it “printing,” but you also add a little bit of a flair to it.  It’s not like a Helvetica font.  You have little ascenders and descenders to make it look elegant.

MK: If you take 10 people and have them print their name, you’re going to see 10 different styles.  It’s almost like a golf swing – you have to use whatever you have in you naturally in your printing and writing, and then you refine that down to a system where it becomes the same for every letter you write.  That’s your style.

GC: But you do have to have a talent for what you do.  I could not do what you do – my printing is really awful.

MK: If you took an interest in it, you probably could do it well.  It might take a little bit more time, a little bit more work.  Just like anything.  Sometimes you don’t pick it up naturally but if you sat down for a couple of hours a day and you practiced it…

I had a guy that did scoreboards on a pretty high level.  He said he would spend winters in his basement with a drawing board and practice.  So for a couple of winters I did that.  But it didn’t change what I was doing.  I found that the more I did the actual scoreboards, the better I got, the more consistent I got.

GC: When I was watching you yesterday, you were doing a little message at the bottom of the scoreboard and you began it in pencil.  When you do the actual scores, you’re not starting them in pencil?

MK: No, I don’t start the scores in pencil.  But for simple messages, you’d think, with the lines up there, you could just go write that in and have it looked framed and nice.  But I don’t have that ability.  I can’t do spacing.  So I start it in pencil … and I use a lot of erasers until I get it the way I want it.  And then I can write over it with a marker.

GC: When you start the scoreboard, when you’re entering the players’ names…

MK: When I do the names, it’s all freehand.  I don’t pencil anything in.  But I do have lines and spaces that I establish with a ruler.  I have a box for each name and I have specific areas where the name goes.  As long as I have that, I do pretty well.

GC: The scoreboard that I saw yesterday, when did you put in all the players’ names?

MK: Thursday afternoon.

GC: How long does it take you to complete the scoreboard?

MK: For 78 names, it’s just a couple of hours.

GC: How many?

MK: Two hours.

GC: Double that for a 144 player field?

MK: I work with the Nationwide Tour for the most part; our full fields are 156 through the summer months.  156 names – that’s a 3, 3 ½ hour job.

GC: And you do that the night before?

MK: The afternoon of the pro-am, the day before the tournament starts.

GC: The names are up there alphabetically, right?

MK: Yes.

GC: Is there a particular paper material that you always use?

MK: The paper comes from the Tour.  They buy the score sheets.  It’s a special paper than can resist water.  If it does get wet, it holds its rigidity.  It doesn’t tear easily, it absorbs ink.  It has to withstand the weather.

I had a guy who I worked with in Houston on a Champions Tour event … he designed a program that printed out all the names on the score sheets … and he had a big plotter for a printer, the kind they use in architectural firms to print large posters.  He did his score sheets like that for the press tent and he made a set for me to be used outside.  And that was a concern because of how it would withstand the elements. The year that I used it outside, it looked nice and perfect, but with the humidity and some rain, it didn’t hold up.

Mike Kutcher

GC: You’re using permanent magic markers?

MK: Yes.

GC: Do we call them “magic markers”?

MK: Yes.  Different sizes and thicknesses.

GC: How many different colors do you have in your palette there?

MK: I’ve got a lot, some that I don’t even use.  There are a couple of companies around the country that make permanent inks specifically for what I do.

GC: Really?

MK: Yeah.  They tend to be guys that were in the marking pen business that had an interest in golf.  They either did scoreboards or were involved on a local level with scoring golf tournaments.  They got frustrated with the equipment that they had to use, so they developed their own pens, their own ink.

GC: Sharpie is the most well-known …

MK: I use a lot of Sharpie stuff.

GC: Do the Sharpies you use have a special type of ink?

MK: No.  Just permanent ink.  I buy them at the Office Depot.  You can get refillable pens too.  I have little jars of ink for those.

GC: How many pens are you traveling with these days?

MK: It’s a briefcase full of stuff.

GC: How do you decide which colors to use on a particular day?  Is it always the same color?  Or is it, “Gee, today I feel like magenta”?

MK: It’s rarely the same colors.  On the Nationwide Tour we go to a lot of small towns and a lot of college towns … and everybody’s very supportive of the local school.  For example, we do a tournament in Athens, GA and we use the University of Georgia golf course.  That week, it’s all red and black; there’s nothing on the score board but red and black.

GC: Do you decide to do that?  No one tells you to use the school colors?

MK: It’s my decision.

GC: That’s kind of cool that you can be creative that way.

MK: Yes.  Our first tournament in the States is usually in Lafayette, LA.  That’s LSU country.

GC: Purple and gold?

MK: Purple and gold.  Everything on our scoreboard was purple and gold.

GC: Tell me about your traveling.  What’s a typical week like?

MK: If I’m at home and traveling to a site…

GC: Where’s home?

MK: Park City, Utah.

GC: Still there?

MK: Still there.  Delta has a hub in Salt Lake City so I can fly anywhere in the world.  On a typical week, if I’m home, I’ll travel on Tuesday, get to the tournament site Tuesday afternoon or evening.

On the Nationwide Tour, we do our pro-am on Wednesday, and then the tournament starts on Thursday.  So I get to the golf course Wednesday morning, do all the pro-am stuff, write up all the sheets…

GC: “The sheets,” meaning the…

MK: The scoreboards with the players’ names on them.  The tournament starts Thursday and we work Thursday-Friday with a full field, 156 players.  Then we make a cut to the low 60 players and ties for the weekend.  Sunday night we button it up.  I might go home Monday … or if I’m doing multiple weeks, then Monday becomes the travel day.

GC: And you’re driving to the next tournament or flying?

MK: If it’s drivable – if it’s inside 6 hours – we’ll drive.

GC: And who would you be driving with?  Other Tour employees?

MK: Either other Tour employees or just independently.  Everybody gets a rental car for the week.  The traveling becomes more of an individual thing.  Some guys like to get on the first flight they can in the morning, get set up in the hotel and crash.  Some guys want to sleep late on Monday, take a later flight and get in later.

GC: You don’t really have time to go home, do you?

MK: No.  If I’m doing multiple tournaments in a row, I don’t go home.

GC: So when would you take a break?  When would you stay home for a week?

MK: Everybody gets a certain schedule.  I’m an independent contractor so I set my own schedule.  Sometimes there are no tournaments so you go home and have a week off.

GC: This is the Nationwide Tour?

MK: Yes.

GC: So how did you end up here at this Champions Tour event?

MK: This was supposed to be a week off for me.  This was going to be my only week off in 9 weeks.  I got a call a month ago from the guy who was scheduled to work this tournament.  He couldn’t do it so he gave the tournament organizers my name, they called, and it just so happened that this tournament was the only week that I wasn’t working.

GC: Are you hired by the tournament or the Tour?

MK: On this tour I’m hired by the tournament.

GC: The Champions Tour?

MK: Yes.  But on the Nationwide Tour, they are responsible for a scorekeeper every week.

GC: And as an independent contractor, you’re responsible for all of your own travel expenses, aren’t you?

MK: Yes, but we get a per diem for expenses.  So whatever you can save – if you can get cheap flights, cheap hotels … you can make more money or not.

GC: How long have you been working for the Nationwide Tour?

MK: That first year, I volunteered … back then I spent some time with the tournament director of the Nationwide Tour – back then it was the Hogan Tour.  At the end of that week, I gave him my card and some pictures of some of the scoreboards that I had done for the Senior Tour.

GC: What year was this?

MK: This was 1990-91.  I gave him my card and said, “If you ever get in a jam and you need somebody to fill in, I’d love to come in and help out.”  The very next summer, I get a call in the middle of July.  They needed somebody to go to Sioux City, Iowa to do a scoreboard.  So that was the first one I did.  I did one more event that year in Reno.

GC: You’ve done some work as well on the PGA Tour.

MK: I’ve done a few PGA Tour events.

GC: Is that a different pay scale than a Nationwide event?

MK: No, it’s all the same.  But there’s so much more going on at those tournaments, it’s harder to work those tournaments than it is at a Nationwide Tour event.  Our golf tournaments are still very basic … everything’s centered more around the golf tournament itself as opposed to all the other stuff that’s going on.

GC: You mean the corporate stuff?

MK: The corporate stuff, yeah.  We have corporate involvement at a much smaller level.

GC: Your hand-drawn scoreboard is one of the last vestiges of golf tournament traditionalism.  It’s nice that with all the digital scoreboards around the course, they still want to have a hand-drawn scoreboard.

MK: It is.  There are so many other forms of communication, it often gets overlooked.  There’s a small percentage of golf fans, when they go to a golf tournament, they want to see a hand-drawn scoreboard. You can identify people that have a lot of experience at golf tournaments just by the questions they ask or how they look at the scoreboard.

GC: Such as?

MK: The average person that shows up at golf tournament who doesn’t know golf that well, the first thing they’ll say is, “I don’t even know what I’m looking at.”  There’s a lot of information up there that’s different from what they’re used to seeing on TV or on an electronic scoreboard.  It’s almost overwhelming for them.

The #1 question I get from folks who aren’t veterans of going to golf tournaments is, “Who’s leading?”

GC: You have to do a little math.

(laughter)

MK: Are you talking about who’s leading out of the players who have finished?  Are you talking about who’s leading currently out on the golf course?  It’s not like baseball where you can ask “Who’s winning?” and there’s an easy answer.

GC: You do a lot of traveling.  Do you have some favorite cities?

MK: I get that a question a lot.  Every tournament site, this is their week.  Most tournament staffs work year round to put on these golf tournaments.

GC: Yup.  Jim Correll is the Tournament Director here.  He told me all about that.

MK: So we get to be in an environment where everybody’s up, everybody’s excited, and you’re excited to be there.  So if I do 25 tournaments in a year, I’m at 25…

GC: High-energy places.

MK: Yes.  It is high energy.  Everyone’s having a good time

GC: And I would think that after a while – I mean, let’s face it: you go to the golf course, you go back to the Hampton Inn – I’ll bet all these places start to run into each other after a while.

MK: Three weeks from now if you asked me where I was three week ago, I’d really have to sit down and go back and go through it.  Everything does run together.  But we get to go to a lot of great spots.

GC: Do you plan a schedule for the upcoming year?

MK: Oh, yeah.  As soon as we get an official schedule of events, I go through it.  I highlight the ones that I want to do.  There’s another guy that does the same thing I do who lives in Southern California – he does a handful of them.  He doesn’t like to travel as much so I know the ones he wants to keep.

GC: So you guys work it out and submit it to the Nationwide Tour?

MK: Yes.

GC: Collusion!

(laughter)

MK: The guy I work for at the Nationwide Tour, he lets me pretty much handle the scheduling and I make sure he knows who’s going to be where.

GC: Have you even been really sick but you had to be here?

MK: Yes.  I have no assistants or partners.  I’m a one-man show.  I get volunteer help.  But there’s no one else here that can do this.  If I fall down and break my leg…

GC: Knock on wood.

MK: Yeah right.  There’s no else here who can pick up the pen and start writing.  I’ve had a couple of experiences where I didn’t think I was going to be able to get out of the bed in the morning.

I remember being really sick at a Champions Tour event in Texas.  It was a struggle to get through the day; I had the flu.  And Utah was in the Final Four; they were playing in San Antonio.  I was there.  I had a friend who flew in.  He got me a ticket.  I was going to do the event and go to the game that night.

So I did the event, went back to the hotel, got into bed and passed up a chance to see the home team in the Final Four.  It’s only happened a couple of times.  Sometimes it’s self-induced.

(laughter)

GC: We won’t talk about that.  I would think that the company that makes Sharpies would give you an endorsement contract.

MK: I’ve thought of that.  I’ve wanted to get in touch with them and see if there was an opportunity there.  I haven’t found that person yet that I could talk to.

GC: You should do that.  You’d have their logo on your shirt; but make sure it’s on your back since people are looking at your back most of the time.

MK: Sharpie is huge; all the players use them.  It’s the most recognizable marking pen.

GC: Is the correct verbiage “marking pen” as opposed to “magic marker”?  What do the professionals say?

MK: I call them crayons.

(laughter)

GC: You call them crayons???

MK: They’re my crayons.  I’ve known guys that do this that get very serious about what they’re doing.  To me, it’s not that serious of a thing.  It’s important but to get that caught up in it, or get demanding … it’s really not a big deal.

GC: Well they have more of an artistic temperament than you do.

MK: I guess, maybe that’s what it is.

GC: When you’re not playing with your crayons, do you ever play golf?

MK: I might play five times a year now.

GC: And in the winter?

MK: I ski.  The other side of this job is, all the traveling that I do in the summer months, when I go home in November, I’m home for three months.  And I get to do whatever I want to do.  So I ski more now than I did when I was working in the ski business.

GC: Are you still giving ski instruction?

MK: Not really. I have some friends and we pretty much ski every day.

GC: Thanks for taking me behind the scenes here, Mike.  And for all you kids out there, just remember: neatness counts!

Mike Kutcher & Robert Blumenthal

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5 Responses to Mike Kutcher: Keeper of the Scoreboard

  1. Rick Dodge says:

    Robert, thank you for this article. I’ve been a PGA Professional in the Minnesota section for over 20 years and have been a scoreboard artist for almost as long. It is a dying art with all of the new technology, but, golfers love to see their names hand drawn on scoresheets. I’ve had golfers tell me that they entered the event so they could see me print their names. I’m paid as much as most top 10 finishers in the event, I don’t get frustrated and everyone admires the work I do. I’d like to send you examples of my work. Thanks again for your article and thank you to Mike Kutcher for promoting this lost art.

    • Administrator says:

      Rick:

      Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment.

      If I was in a tournament where you were providing the hand-drawn scores, I’d pay you NOT to display mine! (Although, the numeral “9″ does look rather handsome in calligraphy!)

      Regards,

      Robert

  2. Steve C. says:

    Having worked with Mike for a number of years, I can tell you that he tends to undersell himself. He was also a Head Pro at the Park Meadows CC in Park City, home of several Senior Tour events. His expertise extends far beyond scorekeeping.

  3. Bill Coomer says:

    I certainly enjoyed your interview with Mike. I too am a scoreboard “artist”. As the tournament director for the Kentucky Section PGA and the Kentucky Golf Association I prepare all of the scoreboards and post all scores and results for each of our events. Although I have been using a large printer for my scoresheet designs, I still print a large amount of the information. I’m sure Mike would also tell you that he is very proud of his results and the nice comments that are offered to him.
    Thanks again for recognizing some of us that are not playing golf for a living.

    • Robert Blumenthal says:

      Bill:

      Thanks for your comment. You PGA pros are the unsung heroes of golf and help to keep it the great game it is. If you’re in Orlando at the PGA Show next week and you see me wandering around, please grab me and say “hi.”

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