By CYRIL TUOHY, managing editor of Risk & Insurance®
For a moment there, David Provost appeared to be well on his way to playing scratch after back-to-back pars early in the round at Burlington's Vermont National Country Club.
Provost, the deputy commissioner of captive insurance for Vermont's Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration, chalked it up to good luck, his amiable golfing partners and the day's warming weather. He even credited his reliable No. 9 wood for the promising start.
His playing partners were having none of it, not for one minute. Provost, everyone was convinced, was spending more time on the state's golf courses than overseeing captive insurance company licensure.
It was a slow year last year, remember? Vermont issued only 16 new captive licenses in 2008, down from 32 in 2007. What were insurance bureaucrats doing with all the downtime? Skiing, of course, in winter; and playing golf, of course, in summer.
On this particular Monday in August, during the pre-event events at the annual conference of the Vermont Captive Insurance Association, Provost and about 50 other chieftains of U.S.-domiciled captive insurance or captive management companies saw fit to play hooky on the fairways and greens of Vermont National Country Club.
Who could blame them? Especially with a recent A.M. Best report showing the captive insurance industry hauling in $837.67 million in net income in 2008, down from 2007, but still not as much as a falling off as other sectors of the economy have seen.
Ladies left from the customary green tee boxes; the men from the blue, which turned the course into a 6,211-yard challenge.
"What about the seniors?" asked one jovial golfer, before the players were sent to tee off in a shotgun-style format. The wisecrack was met with guffaws all around.
Provost, teeing off on No. 5, was all business. He pulled out his massive metal driver, and as others watched, took a mighty swing. Up, up into the sky the ball flew, coming back down onto the fairway.
This regulator was up to the challenge.
As a gray ceiling lifted to reveal the beauty of Vermont's green valleys to the east and Lake Champlain to the west, the greens on the Jack Nicklaus II-design course began to dry, the scores began to rise, the sweat began to drip.
There was no shortage of under-their-breath euphemisms for the printable expression "wicked fast." Gary Osborne, president of USA Risk, admitted after the round that he was "rusty."
For some, pars turned into birdies. For most, pars turned into bogeys and bogeys turned into double-bogeys, and double-bogeys turned into ... double-bogeys. According to tournament rules, at double-bogey, players picked up their balls, and many of us were only too happy to comply.
Scratching out an embarrassing score was the kind of scratch everyone in this crowd could agree on. Besides, those were the rules set by of the 9th annual Vermont Captive Players Championship hosted by Ed Baniak, associate publisher of Risk & Insurance® magazine, and Jeff Kenneson, senior vice president of USA Risk Group, a captive insurance management company.
Stroke play gets expensive--lost balls, wounded egos, bruised handicaps. Even Provost, who took the reins last June from his predecessor Len Crouse, was beginning to feel the strain.
Provost, playing with Brian First, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Sparta Insurance Co., and Gregg Curran, vice president, business development, AAM Co., knew the course like the back of his hand and knew exactly where the ball should go--even if he couldn't always put it there.
After six or seven holes, the foursomes settled into their rhythm and play proceeded without incident.
The pin placements were brutal--in some cases eight, seven, six and even five feet from the edges of the green. Vermont National greens keepers were flirting with the limits of pin placements established by national golfing authorities.
Getting close to the pin in regulation deserved its own award, and Provost might even have won it, were it not for this writer's lucky 8-iron that landed about 12 feet from the pin on No. 15, earning the closest-to-the-pin award: a $100 gift certificate from the course's pro shop.
In fact, Provost may have been closer on No. 15, the 165-yard par-3. His ball bounced off the putting surface and came to a stop in the rough, off the green, and thus out of contention for the closest-to-the-pin contest on that hole.
As it does in the business world we all inhabit, personal gain often collided with conservation for the greater good.
"Gnarly, gnarly rough," said one player, who is also a member at the club. Another few days and the course's lawn doctors are scheduled to clip the tall grass outside of the environmentally sensitive areas.
Phil Cameron was awarded the longest-drive-on-No. 5 award. The hole, a 524-foot-long monster, was the undoing of many a score.
The other Gary Osborne, principal of Actuarial & Technical Solutions Inc., was awarded the closest-to-the-pin award for his iron shot at No. 17, a 167-yard par-3. Tony Martin took the closest-to-the-pin award for No. 13. His shot landed about seven feet from the flag at the 151-yard par-3. Scott McKay picked up the closest-to-the-pin award for his iron shot on the 153-yard No. 8 hole. How close did he come?
"I don't remember," he said.
Players recalled one dynamic, though: they always seemed to be about 200 yards from the pin. Whether they were taking a second shot, or a third shot, or God forbid, a fourth shot to get onto the green, the stick always appeared to be just a couple of hundred yards out.
The wind, always a factor on this course, made it so. Whatever the indications of the distance markers in the fairway, players felt as if the holes always played about 200 yards out. This is a Nicklaus-designed course, remember; wind is always a factor: with you, against you, beside you. The fairway tricks are no accident.
A lost ball here, a mulligan there. Who's counting? After double-bogey it wasn't worth keeping score.
"Life's easier when you get a second chance," said Curran.
About 46 players teed of, nearly everyone who signed up, said Kenneson. "The course was in great condition, and I think everybody enjoyed it," he said.
Sponsors included Risk & Insurance®, USA Risk Group, Wells Fargo, Milliman, Dwight Asset Management Co., and Actuarial & Technical Solutions.
Just for the record, Provost and First finished with rounds of 98 each. Curran, who was attending the Vermont Captive Insurance Association's annual conference for the first time, finished his round in 92 strokes.
August 11, 2009
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