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What is the possible future of the controversial Montana high school golf spectator rule?

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(This is Part Two of a two-part series. Click here to watch Part One.)

BOZEMAN - The rule that parents and spectators cannot be on the golf course in Montana dates back a long time ago.

“There’s always a story of a particular individual that was a problem. There was a problem with a couple and, obviously because of that problem, at that point in time our membership put this rule in place,” said Brian Michelotti, an assistant director of the Montana High School Association.

The rule has been set in stone so long ago that almost every single parent it affects did not have a son or daughter to watch play golf when it was enacted.

“What they are essentially doing is punishing innocent people in advance of something they have no intention of ever doing,” said Montana lawyer James Greenbaum, who has been practicing law for more than 30 years.

In reaction to the rule, golf parent Chris Kelley started a petition to repeal the rule on Change.org that has now over 500 signatures. But he finds the comments more telling than the names.

“You can see by reading these comments how many people this rule has hurt,” said Kelley.

There have been 40 comments left on the petition.

This rule not only affects parents, it can affect coaches.

“I’m from Montana, I coach at Montana State, I want to be able to recruit Montana kids,” said Montana State head golf coach Brittany Basye. “And if I’m not allowed to go on the golf course and actually physically watch those kids, I’m going to have a really hard time recruiting them.”

And a lot of Montana golfers do get the chance to play in college, like Basye’s daughter Kameryn, who will be playing at Weber State next year. In November, Billings Central golfer Liam Clancy signed to play at the University of Wyoming and Billings West golfer Joey Moore signed to play at San Diego State.

“One thing we have done in recent years is really work hard with our courses to designate more spectator areas,” said Michelotti.

It’s important to understand that the MHSA cannot overturn this rule itself. They simply enforce the rules. It is up to the Montana public schools to vote to repeal it and to also work with golf courses in the area to find solutions. While many schools are against it, there are a few athletic directors who would welcome the change if the proper research shows it can be beneficial.

“I’m a big believer in change and I try to look for ways that can improve everything,” said Belgrade athletic director Rick Phillips. “If it can help grow the game, because we certainly need that promotion … then absolutely.”

The MHSA and its members stress concerns like safety are reasons for them to not move to repeal the spectator rule. But there is evidence of solutions.

Every other golf state but Montana allows spectators. The MHSA and its member schools are looking toward new solutions, but big change is not expected anytime soon.

“After we had long discussions a lot of those were maybe not as much for opening up the entire course, but moving more toward spectator areas,” said Michelotti.

But parents want to be involved in these discussions, the golfers themselves too so that each side can understand each other and come to an agreement.

“Any concerns that you have, let’s work together,” said Kelley, “and solve them in a way that does not disenfranchise parents from not being able to watch their kids play.”

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