By Steve Czaban Special to Published Mar 23, 2005 at 5:17 AM

{image1} I remember the first (and only) Senior Tour event I ever attended. It was 1994 in Southern California, at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. A golf buddy at work convinced me to go since we a) had free passes b) had some time on our hands and c) what the hell, we'd at least get to see some legends.

After parking, we walked up to the nearest tee box behind a large wind-screened fence. Immediately we could spy the scoreboard standard which read: "RODRIGUEZ."

Sweet! Chi-chi! We hustled to a semi-trot past a bunch of fans and to our satisfaction, the great swashbuckler had yet to hit his drive on the 18th hole. I peeped my head between and above a decent throng of fans about two deep, and soaked it in.

The great Chi-Chi. A player I had never seen in the flesh since his regular PGA Tour career came to a relevant close at least a decade too early for me. Chi-Chi set up quickly when it was his turn to hit, gave a few twitching waggles, and slash!

His trademark corkscrew finish didn't look pretty in person, but his ball still got small in a hurry against the horizon. I was flush with excitement for the afternoon ahead, and couldn't wait to go "hunting" for other living golf legends.

Then Chi-Chi slouched into his golf cart, tossed his glove into the front compartment, lit up a smoke, and sped down the fairway with his left foot dangling out the side.

Talk about a bummer.

I know it sounds naïve and petty, but I was both shocked and annoyed to learn that the old dudes rode carts. Why hadn't I known this much going into the event? Because the limited times I had seen the over-50 set play on television, the networks went to incredible lengths not to show us players kicking back in their buggies waiting to hit.

And it is this little anecdote that brings us to the current Champions Tour controversy over golf carts. The tour is now banning them, but a lot of the old/fat/crippled guys are preparing to sue.

Good grief.

I know exactly why the Senior Tour is doing what they are doing. The very sight of supposedly "elite" athletes zipping around fairways like Shriners in go-karts doesn't inspire the masses. To see a guy literally drive right past you -- the paying customer -- while you have to hoof it after him, is the very picture of arrogance, no matter if the player is smiling like a parade queen and throwing $20 bills out the back.

(Note: You may have noticed, that I have only once in this column referred to this circuit as the "Champions Tour" as it is now known. This is because you can put lipstick on a pig, but it still doesn't make me want to sleep with it. Champions? Lots of Club Champions, unfortunately. Far too many Senior Tour players are guys who were never names in the first place. Sure, they can play like mad, and I am sure it's a dream come true -- for them -- but nobody wants to pay to see them play. I won't name names, because it's not their fault. But this is a column and an argument for another day.)

On the one hand, the Tour wants to sell us on the idea that plenty of great golfers can still crush dimples after they hit the big Five-Oh. And this much is true. Especially with technology, most top Senior Tour players are hitting it farther than they did when they played the PGA Tour.

On the other hand, the whole cart thing is just killing the Tour's image. Once you see it in person, you'll know. It screams "small time exhibition" not "legitimate golf." So here we are again, back in Casey Martin land, arguing what is or is not "essential" to the nature of the game.

Is walking a "central" component of actual "competition"? I say it is; but not everyone does. And even if we agree it is, what do we make of the Senior Tour? Is it "competition" or "entertainment"?

Will banning carts bring just one more fan through the gates that would otherwise stay home? Even I can't make a case for that. But what this ban might do is prevent the "walk away" factor for guys like myself who tried the product, and quickly spit it out.

Guys like Gary Player and Allen Doyle get it. Said Player: "There's Arnold Palmer at 76. He's had prostate cancer, and he still walks around there." Doyle: "I've said many times that if I was a spectator, I would have come to my first tournament and that it would have been my last. I wouldn't chase carts around."

"Hi Allen. My name is Steve, and I'm that guy."

Naturally, the players on Tour who are "lawyering up" on this issue don't see it that way at all. Ed Fiori has a darker conspiracy at work, which is that the rule is merely being used to flush out the older dead wood on Tour. As for Fiori, he's not old chronologically at 51. Medically though, he is, suffering from both a bad back and the lingering effects of a 2003 heart attack.

Is conceding a cart to the Ed Fiori's on the Senior Tour really that bad of a thing? I mean, he still has to hit the shots and make the putts, right? Carts won't help you there.

The problem is that it would be a concession. And once you start making a few small concessions, the door is ajar for perhaps more down the road. Today, the issue is carts. Tomorrow, it could be tee times.

What if a group of older players approached the Tour's policy board and asked for permission to permanently have the latest possible tee time every week, since the older you get, the harder it is to get out of bed and start feeling nimble.

Ridiculous? Never happen? Fantasy?

Well, did anybody envision a looming ADA lawsuit over golf cart policy? Of course not, but here it is anyway.

Lest anybody think the pro-cart faction is just a bunch of over-fed buffet lizards approaching their 60th birthday, be advised that Tom Purtzer is among them. While his PGA Tour resume was modest in comparison to his ability, Purtzer remains to this day one of the purest swingers of the club the sport has ever seen when his balky back permits.

It would be a shame if the Tour's new cart policy ended his career. But then again, everybody has to hang 'em up sometime. Nobody is asking guys to carry their own bags and loop 36.

I'd say that when the day comes when you can't walk and play 18 holes a day with a professional caddy on a 6,800-yard layout, then you probably aren't worth charging people to watch.

Steve Czaban Special to

Steve is a native Washingtonian and has worked in sports talk radio for the last 11 years. He worked at WTEM in 1993 anchoring Team Tickers before he took a full time job with national radio network One-on-One Sports.

A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Steve has worked for WFNZ in Charlotte where his afternoon show was named "Best Radio Show." Steve continues to serve as a sports personality for WLZR in Milwaukee and does fill-in hosting for Fox Sports Radio.