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When I first started writing this column on Sept. 12, 2002, I had goals in mind: to promote the game of golf, to be a sounding board for golfers, teaching pros, superintendents, club managers and the huge spectrum of golfers out there, from zero handicappers to just-beginning-to-play retirees.
That first fall, I did two columns on our local club champions, ladies one week and men the next. Of course, all the clubs sent in the news when their championships were played during the year, but I thought it would be fun to personally interview each champion, take his or her picture and profile them in my column.
I discovered most of our club championships are stroke-play events. In other words, the lowest score over a certain number of rounds won the trophy. No handicaps, they compete just like the pros we watch on TV each weekend. Most clubs played two rounds, others three and a few (like St. James) had four rounds on four different courses.
A few clubs determined their champion in a match-play event. Again, no handicaps were used, just hole-by-hole matches over several rounds until a winner emerged.
The following year, when I was doing my club-champion interviews, some of the golfers mourned that when their championship was over, it felt as if the whole golf season was over. Many of them experienced a big letdown after winning.
One of the guys mentioned that in his hometown, they had had a countywide championship, where all the local champions played off on one glorious weekend late in the fall.
What a great idea, I thought.
The next week, I spoke with Ben Carlson (then the managing editor of The Beacon) about it. He thought the paper might be willing to sponsor such an event. We spoke with Scott Harrell, the publisher. When he agreed, The Brunswick Beacon Tournament of Champions was born.
In December 2004, the first-ever Tournament of Champions took place at Ocean Ridge Plantation. It was open, by invitation only, to the champions of golf clubs in Brunswick County that have a formal membership. The champions must have won their event in either match play or stroke play without handicaps. Net champions were ineligible. If there were a tie, a sudden-death playoff would follow immediately upon the conclusion of the event. If a champion could not play in the Tournament of Champions because of a conflict or illness, substitutions were not allowed.
I remember being really excited about that first TOC. There was a Friday practice round, then a pairings party that evening with spouses or significant others invited. Saturday and Sunday were the tournament days with a reception and awards ceremony that evening.
The golfers showed up for the event with their game faces on. There were a few scratch golfers in the group, seasoned competitors who had won many championships. Others were new to the ranks and had taken up golf late in life, but they were all ready to play.
They were the best of the best for 2004.
Each year since then, the TOC has grown. After three years at Ocean Ridge Plantation, the tournament moved to Sea Trail Golf Links in 2007 and will be played there this year.
Previous lady winners of the Tournament of Champions include Marie Strickler from Carolina Shores (2004), Jeanne Maxon from Ocean Ridge (2005) and Mona Dye from Brierwood and Sandy Hulberg from The Lakes (2006, a tie was declared by the tournament committee that year because of inclement weather).
Last year Dale Calhoon from Brick Landing defeated Mona Dye from Brierwood in a sudden-death playoff. The playoff was on Monday because of encroaching darkness on Sunday.
The men who have won the Tournament of Champions are Richard Curwen of St. James (2004), Bill Stanley from Carolina Shores (2005) and Bill Calhoun from Sandpiper Bay (2006). Last year, Mike Verhoosky of Lockwood Folly shot 151 to edge out Bill James of Magnolia Greens by one shot.
Each year it’s exciting to watch. Each year, there are stories behind the club champions who compete in the TOC.
In 2005 and 2007, Norm Harding, The Beacon food columnist, represented Brick Landing.
Keith Young, always a special guy, was wounded three times in the Vietnam. A tough Marine, Keith represented Carolina National in 2004 despite a major heart attack in 2003 that required a defibrillator, a pacemaker and a lot of rehabilitation. He was back again in 2007 after a bout with congestive heart failure. Dedicated to exercise, rehabilitation and golf, Keith regularly shoots his age. He’s now 71, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him back this year.
Ann Bailey from Lockwood Folly has won more than 40 club championships in three states. She’s a great athlete and a great lady and plays regularly with her husband and a couple of guys just to hone her game.
Mona Dye (Brierwood) also plays with the guys at her course, plus she walks the course most of the time.
Dale Calhoon (Brick Landing) and Jean Maxon (Ocean Ridge) have each won their club championship nine years in a row.
Bill Stanley shot 63 at Carolina Shores a couple of years ago and set the course record.
These are great guys and gals, dedicated to the sport of golf and wonderful to watch in a tournament.
This year, The Brunswick Beacon Tournament of Champions will take place Nov. 15-16 at the Maples Course at Sea Trail. Our champions will once more tee it up and play blood-and guts golf for two days. No handicaps, no quarter asked, none given.
Just bring your weapons and play ball.
“This is such a special event for all of us,” said Scott Harrell, publisher of The Beacon when he met last week with Eddie Pratt, director of Golf at Sea Trail, to finalize plans for the 2008 TOC. “We are delighted to bring the best of the best together for this one weekend of championship golf.”
“We will be doing more publicity this year about the Tournament of Champions,” he added. “We want to reach everyone in the area and make them aware of the event. We want lots of spectators out here watching these great golfers play head to head. ”
“This tournament has grown each year,” Pratt said. “The clubs plan on it now and schedule their individual championships in time for them to participate. Last year, we had almost every club represented. Sea Trail is proud to be the 2008 site of this event.”
So, dear friends, I urge you to put Nov. 15-16 on your calendar now. Come out and cheer your champion to victory. Watch some great golf and get inspired to improve your own game with lessons, practice time and course play.
We’ll get more information to you on The Brunswick Beacon Tournament of Champions as we move forward, so talk it up.
GOLF GAB GROANER
After 20 years of marriage, a couple went to see a marriage counselor. As soon as they sat down, the wife went into a long, painful tirade about her husband’s neglect, their lack of intimacy, the loneliness she experienced every day and how she felt unloved and unappreciated. Finally, after listening for a long time, the therapist got up, walked around the desk and asked the wife to wife to stand.
She did, and he immediately embraced her and kissed her passionately as the husband watched with one raised eyebrow.
The therapist finally released the wife and she sat in her chair, looking as if she were in a daze.
The therapist turned to the husband and said sternly, “This is what your wife needs at least three times a week. Can you do this?”
The husband thought for a moment, then replied, “Well, I can drop her off here on Mondays and Wednesdays, but on Fridays, I play golf.”
ELSA BONSTEIN is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.