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Tournament of Champions to be played this year at St. James

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

On Sept. 12, 2002, the very first Golf Gab ran in this newspaper. Since then, I have had a whole lot of fun writing about golf-related topics. I’ve met professional golfers (even Arnold Palmer once), superintendents, golf course architects, new golfers, single-digit players and ordinary people who triumph over diversity to play the game of golf.

On trips, I’ve taken my notebook and camera with me and written about golf in Arizona and Bermuda and Texas and Georgia. If I ever get to Scotland (my dream of all dreams), I will report from there.

The first year I wrote a column about our local club champions. I covered the women one week and the men the next. I’ve always been a wannabe champ, so I enjoyed getting to know our crème de la crème, asking them about how they did it, when they first started playing, and if they practiced regularly.

The second year as I went around doing interviews, one gentleman told me he felt as if the whole golf season was over when his club championship was finished. Another gentleman mentioned in his hometown, they had a local championship where all the club champions played off against each other.

Wow, what fun, I thought. When I mentioned these conversations to Ben Carlson, then the editor of the Beacon, he wondered if the Beacon could sponsor a county-wide championship. His proposal went through the proper channels at the newspaper and was enthusiastically endorsed.

The first Tournament of Champions was played on Dec. 4-5, 2004, at Ocean Ridge Plantation. The first round was played at Lion’s Paw and the finals were at Tiger’s Eye.

The tournament was open by invitation to club champions of clubs in Brunswick County that have a formal membership. The club champion, whether men’s or women’s, had to win the championship in either match play or stroke play without handicaps. Net champions were ineligible. Furthermore, if a champion could not make the event because of travel or illness or some other mitigating circumstance, substitutes would not be allowed.

A practice round for the competitors was arranged before the event. There was a pairings party on Friday night with spouses and significant others invited. The first year, a dinner was on Saturday night, but golfers later complained they really didn’t need a party that night because everyone was getting ready to compete the next day. So we took that out of the schedule.

After the final round, an awards ceremony and reception took place, again with spouses and significant others invited. The men’s and women’s Tournament of Champions winners each received an individual trophy. Their club’s name was put on a rotating trophy that went from club to club.

Early on, we decided to keep it simple. No fundraising was allowed, no matter how worthy the cause, no big prizes like golf bags or TV sets were given out. There were no prizes for second or third place. Pure golf, winner take all.

As new clubs established memberships and they grew big enough to support a championship, they came on board. Last year, 26 champions competed at the Maples Course at Sea Trail.

For the first three years, the tournament was at Ocean Ridge, then in 2007, the tournament moved to Sea Trail and remained there through 2008.

As I reviewed this history of the tournament, certain facts came to light. We have crowned a new men’s and women’s county champion each year. Despite the many low handicappers in the county and the fierce competition, only one person has ever won the Tournament of Champions twice, and it was a woman, Mona Dye of Brierwood.

Past women’s winners include: 2004, Marie Strickler (Carolina Shores); 2005, Jean Maxon (Ocean Ridge); 2006, Mona Dye (Brierwood) and Sandy Hulbert (The Lakes); 2007, Dale Calhoon (Brick Landing in a sudden-death playoff against Mona Dye—we learned to include a sudden-death provision); and 2008 Mona Dye (Brierwood).

Men’s champions include: 2004, Richard Curwen (St. James); 2005, Bill Stanley (Carolina Shores); 2006, Bill Calhoun (Sandpiper Bay); 2007, Mike Verhoosky (Lockwood Folly); and 2008 Peter Allen (St. James).

Curiously, the women in the field tend to be the same year after year. Dale Calhoon (Brick Landing), Pat Schutzman (Carolina National) and Jean Maxon (Ocean Ridge) have each won their championship for nine years in a row. Mona Dye (Brierwood) has won for the last four years, Marie Strickler (Carolina Shores) has won five out of the last six years, Ann Bailey (Lockwood Folly) has won five out of the last seven years. Mary Ann Seeley won at Sea Trail for five years in a row, but in 2007 she decided not to compete in the championship any more.

On the men’s side, five clubs have had six different champions in seven years (Brunswick Plantation, Carolina Shores, The Lakes, Lockwood Folly and St. James). The longest running men’s champion is Bill Calhoon, who won at Sandpiper Bay in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

In the spirit of the game, it was suggested by many golfers the tournament should move periodically to various venues around the county. Several clubs offered to host it.

This year the Tournament of Champions will be played Nov. 14-15 at St. James Plantation at the Members Club. There will be the usual pairings party Friday night and an awards reception on Sunday afternoon following play. Tee times are earlier this year, starting at 9 a.m. on both days.

“We are happy to have St. James as a venue this year,” said Scott Harrell, publisher of the Beacon as we all sat on the porch of the Reserve Club last week finalizing the plans and signing contracts. “To be a true county championship, this event needs to move from venue to venue at least every two or three years. We were delighted to be at Ocean Ridge for our first few years. Sea Trail did a fine job in 2007-2008. Both Eddie Pratt and Tom Plankers were great to work with. I’m sure that the Tournament of Champions will continue as the premier event each year for our local golfers.”

Jim Lawrence, PGA professional and director of group sales at St. James, echoed Scott’s comments.

“St. James is delighted to host the Tournament of Champions this year. We hope that a lot of folks will come out and support their champions as they compete on the Members Club. After all, the British Open moves their venue for the same reasons,” he joked, “so it’s good to move this kind of championship to various parts of the county. We are looking forward to having it here this year.”

The Tournament of Champions is a wonderful event. I have played in the championship at any club I have belonged to and I’ve had fun playing with the “big girls,” though I’ve never come close to winning. I will do the same this year and maybe give my worthy opponents a scare. Tee-hee.

Dear Readers, sign up for your championship, and if you don’t win or don’t compete, at least come on out to watch the best of the best Nov. 14-15 at St. James Members Club. If you win your tournament, I’ll interview you and take your picture, then watch you compete.

The Tournament of Champions honors our club champions and gives our local community the opportunity to see some great golf up close and personal.

GOLF GAB GROANER

A golfer walked by a house near the sixth green of a golf course and noticed an elderly woman sitting on the porch. He saw she was smiling, so he walked up and introduced himself.

“I couldn’t help but notice how happy you look! What is your secret?” he asked.

“I smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and a cigar after dinner each night. I drink a whole bottle of Jack Daniels every week and eat only junk food. And, I never exercise.”

“That’s absolutely amazing,” the golfer replied. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-four,” she replied.

ELSA BONSTEIN is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net.