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Bob Koegel won the Brick Landing Championship in 2006 and in 2009, but he was a seasoned competitor long before then.
In 1996, Koegel won the Club Championship at Wynham Country Club in New York. From 1992 to 1999, he was the senior men’s champion there. He was also Green Country Champion in upstate New York.
Koegel did not start playing golf as a kid, but rather began the sport in Passiac, N.J., a few years after graduating from Seton Hall College. He was 26 years old when his friends asked him to join them in a round of golf.
“I knew this group of guys who golfed all the time and one day, they asked me to play with them. I loved the game from the start. However, it was difficult getting tee times at our public courses back then. Since I was the newbie, I was the one who got up at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning and put my golf ball in line to make the starting time for the rest of the group,” Koegel laughed. “I sometimes wonder if that’s why they asked me to join them.”
Koegel enjoys serious stroke play events when the ball is played down.
“Lots of golfers move the ball each time they hit it. That’s a bad habit to get into and ultimately, it hurts your game. I try to play the ball down all the time, no matter what the rule of the day is, unless it’s terribly wet and we’re allowed to ‘lift, clean and place.’
“The secret to winning a stroke play event is to have two consistent rounds, with no blowup holes.”
Koegel and his wife Kathy spend their time between Brick Landing and The Great Outdoors in Titusville, Fla.
Chris Lane is a repeat champion, having won the Brierwood Championship in 2008.
He loves the game of golf but admits, “My game was not spectacular during the two days of stroke play at Brierwood. I just played well enough to win. Basically, I did not hit any really bad shots.”
The secret of his consistency this year is cutting down his backswing.
“I have more control now and can keep the ball in play and get it on the green or close to the green. Just doing that one thing has helped my score immeasurably.”
Lane learned to play golf when he was 6 years old at a little nine-hole course called Dogwood Valley in Caroleen.
“It was a simple course that most of the millworkers and farmers in the area played after work. The membership was $50 a year. No sprinkler system, no carts, just pure and simple golf.”
Lane’s mother was a golfer and encouraged him to play.
“Hit it hard and worry about where it goes later,” she told him when he was a kid.
Lane tries to play in as many stroke play tournaments as possible.
“You have to play serious golf and just grind it out. If you play in these events, like the CGA tournament or the Wilmington Open, you’re better prepared for your club championship and the Tournament of Champions.”
Dennis Radke won the Brunswick Plantation Club Championship on Sept. 22. This is Dennis’ third victory at Brunswick Plantation. He won the championship in 2002-2003.
Three weeks ago, he had a complete shoulder replacement.
“My shoulder has bothered me for 40 years,” Radke said. “I played football when I was younger and had three different shoulder separations. They did surgery on me and tied up those ligaments, but over the years the shoulder got worse and worse until it was bone grinding on bone.”
“I was in pain but managed to win by a few shots. The tournament was close until the 34th hole. I went birdie-par-par to eke out the win.”
For 30 years, Radke leased and operated Wolf Creek Golf Course in Pontiac, Ill. Asked if he lots of time to play golf, Radke said, “We were busy all the time, just operating the course. There wasn’t a lot of time for golf.”
“Don’t make your hobby into your occupation!”
Today, he has lots of time for golf and is looking forward to playing again when his shoulder heals.
He has three sons (two played golf in college) and four grandsons.
Carolina National Richard Curwen
Richard Curwen won the Carolina National Club Championship in 2003 and 2004 and is back this year as its champion.
Curwen is from Scotland. When he was 25 years old he immigrated to Canada, then went back to London, England, and then to the United States.
“I worked for a multi-national company and finally wound up in Wisconsin, 13 miles from Green Bay. The golf season was very short there.”
Curwen learned to play golf as a boy in Scotland.
“Every kid plays golf over there. There are lots of courses; every small town has its own links. Although some are private, the fees are very reasonable which allows almost everyone to belong to a club.”
Curwen adds the courses over there are not the manicured, resort type of courses like here in the United States.
“Golf courses are rougher over there and everyone walks and carries. The bunkers are often just holes with all kinds of junk in them. The ball does not sit up on pretty white sand. It’s a good way to learn the game because you learn how to make every kind of shot.”
Curwen still enjoys walking the course and often carries a light bag with 12 clubs.
“I sometimes tee off at 7:30 a.m. with three guys who are in carts. The course doesn’t mind because I pay for a cart year round, and if I choose to walk, that’s OK with them. It’s really faster to walk, you can go down the middle of the fairway and walk right up onto the green without worry about cart paths.”
The championship at Carolina National was two days of stroke play. Curwen shot a 70 on the first day and was far ahead of the field. That 70 included a string of four birdies.
“I started playing defensively the second day, so my score wasn’t as good, but good enough to win.”
Curwen has often worked as a rules official for the Carolinas Golf Association.
“I especially enjoy working with junior golfers, explaining their options, getting them to understand the rules. The kids are great, and say ‘thank you’ afterwards. I must admit that some of the adults are not nearly as polite when there’s a rules infraction.”
The best part of Curwen’s game is his straight drives.
“I stay out of trouble and keep it in play. Right now, I have no glaring weaknesses in my game.”
In 2004, Curwen won the Tournament of Champions at Ocean Ridge. With his consistent game and his ability to deal with trouble shots, he may be out in front again in 2009.
Art Hahl, a retired police officer, has lived in Carolina Shores for 14 years and is having the time of his life.
“When I retired at 50, my wife Kathleen bought me a set of clubs. I looked at her and said ‘why?’ She said that maybe I would learn to play.”
Hahl took to the game with a vengeance, hitting buckets and buckets of balls, honing his skills.
“I had played basketball and baseball as a kid and thought I was a pretty good athlete. I thought I would ace this game in no time,” he said. “Boy, was I surprised. It took a lot of work to get decent.”
Hahl was in the highway patrol in Long Island, N.Y., and then became an officer in the Roxbury, N.Y., police department.
“I had no time for golf in those days. After work, I ran a party rental business and mostly had a sledgehammer in my hands, pounding stakes. Now I’m retired and can play golf whenever I want. It’s pure heaven.”
This is Hahl’s first-ever championship win. Last year, he lost to Gary Stewart on the 20th hole and was determined to come back and win it this year.
Hahl is a tall guy and admits his tee shot is the best part of his game.
“If I’m playing well, I’m long and straight off the tee.”
One of the younger Champions, Chad McCullough grew up in Gaithersbrug, Md., but has lived in Oak Island for eight years. He and his wife Jennifer have two children, Ethan, 4, and Gabrielle, 2. He owns McCullough Construction in Oak Island and that keeps him busy these days.
McCullough attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and started playing golf after graduation.
“I had played a little as a kid but got really serious in my mid-to-late 20s,” he said. “In the club championship this year, I was steady but not spectacular. Because of my family and my business, I don’t have as much time to play now.”
According to McCullough, the best part of his game is the ability to scramble out of a bad situation on the golf course.
“I need that,” he said, “because I’m not always straight down the middle anymore.”
This is Mike Verhoosky’s second foray in the Tournament of Champions. He was the 2007 champ at Lockwood Folly also.
“Anything can happen in golf,” Verhoosky explained.
“I was last to qualify in the championship flight at Lockwood and then played pretty decently in the championship to win it all. I’d shot a 75 on the first day. Then on the second day, I doubled hole No. 16, thought I’d fold, but then went birdie, birdie to finish out.”
Like most of our champions, Verhoosky is no stranger to sports competition.
Verhoosky is from Connecticut, where he taught physical education classes for 35 years and coached basketball and golf. He has always loved the game of golf.
“I started playing golf as a kid, attended Southern Connecticut State University and played on the golf team.”
The best part of golf, Verhoosky says, is the social aspect of it.
“I’ve gotten to know lots of other golfers here at Lockwood and in outside competitions. I’ve stayed in touch with some of the guys I met in the Tournament of Champions two years ago. I have lots of great memories and great friends through the game of golf.”
With his height, Verhoosky is a power hitter and very long off the tee. He usually plays three or four times a week. With a good short game and lots of length, look for him to do well in the Tournament of Champions.
Meadowland/Farmstead Matt Graves
Matt Graves is the assistant green superintendent at Farmstead, a position he has occupied for six years now. A big, strong man in his late 20s, Graves has been playing golf since his late teens.
“My uncle got me interested in the game, and I bought into it, big time,” he said. “I liked everything about it—the game itself, the courses, the various careers associated with it. I basically fell in love with golf and decided to make a career in it.”
Graves had a few lessons early on, but he’s mostly self-taught. He likes to watch tournaments on TV and feels that watching the pros helps his own game.
“I watch their swings, their strategy and I try to imitate them.”
The best part of Graves’ game is chipping and putting.
“You don’t win many tournaments in the fairway. To be a good player, you need the short game.”
Graves is from Amarillo, Texas. He attended turf school there and moved to Brunswick County six years ago.
Oak Island Club
This is Allen Kinney’s first-ever club championship. Last year, he played in the competition at the Oak Island Club for the first time and finished second to Tucker Pacula. This year, Kinney won by a narrow margin.
“We have a great group of men that play together a lot, so the championship feels like a regular golf day,” Kinney said. “These guys all played high school sports, and they’re pretty good athletes. Most have single digit handicaps.”
Kinney grew up in Columbus County, and, as says, “I migrated 50 miles east to Oak Island.”
He played baseball and basketball in high school and feels playing other sports translates into playing good golf. He was also an avid fisherman, having won several King mackerel tournaments, and working as a commercial fisherman for several years.
But then Kinney discovered golf and now the boat is gone.
“I began to spend more and more time at the golf course and less time fishing. I started my own business as an electrician (Allen Kinney Electrical) and that keeps me busy.”
Kinney is a self-taught golfer, and has never had a lesson. In the championship at Oak Island Club, he shot 80 in the first round.
“I had two bad shots that day and they cost me plenty, but I composed myself and shot a 75 the second day to win the tournament.”
The best club in Kinney’s bag is his wedge.
“I’m a decent putter, and I drive pretty straight. The wedge helps me get up and down if I’m not on the green in regulation.”
New to the list of champions this year is Dennis Miller of Ocean Ridge, but he is modest about his victory. The Ocean Ridge tournament was played in three days of competition.
“I was just lucky to win the tournament,” he said. “On the last day, I was even on the front nine, then I lost the lead on the 15th hole. On hole No.16, I had to make a shot over a lake to the green. I thinned a 4-iron and it skipped across and came out of the water. I chipped onto the green and made a bogie, but it could have been a whole lot worse. I went on to win the tournament. I don’t know if I’m the best golfer here, but for sure, I was the luckiest that day.”
Miller is a self-taught golfer with a passion for the game. Years ago, when he was first playing golf, a good friend gave him some advice he always remembers: “When you’re ahead, never let up and when you’re behind, never give up.”
“I try to remember that, like the book title says, ‘Golf is Not a Game of Perfect.’ I try to anticipate some bad things happening. I know that I’ll have a few bogies in a round but I know I’ll make some birdies too.”
Miller grew up on the coast of Maine, attended Georgia Tech, where he majored in engineering. He worked for Westinghouse and moved 12 times in the 23 years he worked for them.
Then he settled in Atlanta, where he worked for a company called Caradon, the parent company of Peach Tree Doors and Windows.
“When the companies were acquired, I decided to get out,” he said. “After consulting for seven years, I moved here and initially worked for Sea Trail a few days a week. That’s over now, so I can play golf three times a week.”
Miller remembers fondly that his father-in-law brought him to the game of golf and that he grew to love it.
“I coach for the First Tee now and enjoy working with the kids. I like the camaraderie of golf, and my game is decent right now. This has been a good year so far.”
Rivers Edge had its first championship in 2007. Terry Sinay won that year and has won ever since.
This year, Sinay did not have a sterling round on the first day and was down four shots. He shot a sizzling 35 on the front nine of the second round to regain the lead.
“I was able to turn it around and was pleased with my performance that day.”
“We have a great group of guys here at Rivers Edge,” he said. “They’re all very competitive. It’s a lot of fun to play golf with them and they’re very encouraging.”
Normally, some of the out-of-bounds at Rivers Edge are treated like hazards to speed up play.
“For the championship, we played USGA Rules and the out-of-bounds were out-of-bounds. We played the ball down all the way and really enjoyed it. Our pro, Rick Ferrell ran a great tournament, plus with the new greens that were installed this past summer, the course was in great shape.”
Sinay is from Norwich, Conn., and played golf and football in college.
“When I was working, I never had enough time for golf. I only played 15 or 20 times a year back then. Now I can play all the golf I want.”
Bill Calhoun has a home at Sandpiper Bay, but most of the year he lives in Sykesville, Md., where he has an accounting business. This is Calhoun’s fourth year in a row as the Sandpiper Bay men’s champion.
He had previously won two championships in Maryland.
This CPA often dreams of living in Brunswick County full time, especially in the throes of tax season when he works long hours and weekends.
Calhoun began playing golf when he was a kid and played junior golf in the Washington, D.C., area. He loves the game and would like to play more but has a tight schedule because of his business.
“I try to plan my trips down here around golf competitions,” he said. “I get down six or seven times a year. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to practice because of my work commitment, but I know that day will come.”
Calhoun played steady to win the championship at Sandpiper.
Mike Depauw won the Sea Trail championship in 2005 and is back again this year. The annual event at Sea Trail is tough because it runs over four days of play instead of the two or three at the other clubs. Four steady rounds are needed to succeed.
DePauw is from Boston and started playing golf in his early 30s and took to the game with a vengeance.
“The game of golf became totally engrossing to me,” he said. “I loved it from the start.”
Because of on-going renovations to the Jones Course, this year’s tournament split one round between the Jones and Byrd courses.
“One nine had bent grass greens, the other had Bermuda. It was difficult to adjust to the putting speed, but we managed.”
DePauw caddies at Grand Dunes on the Members Course several days a week where all golfers are required to have either a regular caddie or a forecaddie.
“I work as a forecaddie most of the time,” DePauw said. “A company called Caddy Masters was hired by Grand Dunes to provide the service. They provide caddie services all over the country including Pebble Beach and Kiawah.”
DePauw’s game has improved with help from his girlfriend Nicholle Markatos.
“She’s written a book on fitness and her focus is on golf and how to help golfers become stronger and more physically fit. She’s a vegetarian, so I’m eating less meat. I feel a whole lot better.”
DePauw plays golf three times a week at Sea Trail and in the Grand Strand Seniors league.
“I like competition with guys like me. I’ve gotten to know many of the club champions and look forward to playing with them.”
A life-long golfer, Peter Allen has won 23 championships at five clubs. He retired at the age of 53 and now enjoys playing golf most days of the week.
St. James plays three rounds of stroke play to determine their champion. Allen had a bad day in the first round, shooting a 78.
“I felt bad after the first day. I knew I had to bear down and come back with a response.”
The response was a 69 and a 70 on the second two rounds of competition, enough to win the tournament in a league with over 300 members.
Allen likes to hit 25 balls before he tees it up, just as a warm up.
“I like to think of angles, or shots to the green. I don’t want to concentrate on the shots that just go down the middle,” he said. “Club selection is very important, especially from 150 yards in. I work on that.”
Allen plays in tournaments all over the country through several golf associations like the Senior Amateurs, the Society of Seniors and GolfWeek Tournaments.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of the guys that play in these events. We might play in Palm Springs, then in Atlanta or High Point. We travel to Johnstown, Pa., or Chattanooga, Tenn. It’s a lot of fun and great competition.”