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Each year I have the pleasure of interviewing all the ladies’ and men’s club champions prior to The Brunswick Beacon Tournament of Champions.
This is the sixth year the Beacon has sponsored this event, and it gets bigger and better each year.
It all began in 2002, when I first started writing this column. I thought it would be a hoot to interview all the champions and then feature them in Golf Gab, the men one week, the women the next. It was fun talking to the best of the best, the guys and gals who, for this one special tournament, came out on top.
As I was conducting interviews around the county, several winners said they wished there was another level above their local club championship. They said that, as far as they were concerned, the season was over when the club championship was over.
I spoke with Ben Carlson, the former editor of the Beacon, and he thought perhaps the Beacon could sponsor a Tournament of Champions, where all the champions could play off against each other. It would be a blood and guts event, with no handicaps. No quarter asked, none given. U.S.G.A. rules.
And so it began, and now it’s fall and it’s time for the Tournament of Champions. As always, we feature our illustrious champions in this column.
The Tournament of Champions will be played starting at noon Nov. 15-16 on the Maples Course at Sea Trail, teeing off on the back and front sides. Come on out and watch. We’ve got a great bunch of competitors this year.
Here are our 2008 Women’s Club Champions. The men will get equal space next week.
Brick Landing: Dale Calhoon. This is Dale’s 10th year as champion at Brick Landing. She moved here in 1999 and has won every year since. Her friends at Brick talk about creating a fund and sending her and her husband Cal on a cruise during the club championship next year.
Actually, the gals at Brick say it would not be the same if she did not play because she’s the best of the best. Last year, Dale won the Tournament of Champions in a sudden-death playoff against Mona Dye of Brierwood. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Asked about this year’s win, Dale said, “I never got into trouble during the two days of championship play. I was never in a bunker, never lost a ball and kept it in the fairway. That’s important because the rough is deep late in the summer.”
Brierwood: Mona Dye. This is Mona’s third year as champion at Brierwood. Last year, she tied with Dale Calhoon of Brick Landing in the Tournament of Champions. She lost on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.
An avid golfer (fishing is her other great love), Mona walks the course for nine holes almost every day. “That’s my practice,” she says. “I like to walk the course; it gives me exercise and helps me to play better.”
During fishing season from June to October, Mona admits she neglects golf and only plays three times a week.
“Fishing is important in those months. I can play golf all year. Every day in golf is different. The weather, the wind, the golf course, that’s what makes it a challenge. I always try my best and play my own game.”
Brunswick Plantation: Alcina Davis. To break a tie in the championship at Brunswick Plantation, Alcina had to play four holes of sudden death on the Azalea course.
“We tied the first hole, and then on the second hole, I put my ball about 30 feet from the pin and thought it was all over because my opponent was a lot closer. I putted first and ran the ball about 15 feet past the hole. She missed her putt and I miraculously sank the 15-footer. Two holes later, I made a par, she made a bogey, and it was all over.”
Alcina’s house happens to be on the hole where the match was decided. Her husband was wondering why his wife was so late in getting home from the tournament. He saw her on the green, came out and watched her sink the winning putt.
“It was crazy,” Alcina said. “I told the gals in the clubhouse not to come out and watch the playoff because I was so nervous, but my husband managed to see it.”
This is Alcina’s first-ever club championship. “I started playing golf when I first got married, because I did not want to be a golf widow. I fell in love with the game and have been playing ever since.”
Carolina National: Pat Schutzman. This is Pat’s seventh championship at Carolina National. After a bad start on the first day, she worked hard, managed two good scores and won the event.
Pat reads “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect” by Bob Rotella to keep her mind focused on the game.
“I refer to it all the time,” she said. “It’s my Bible of golf and puts me in a good state of mind. I try not to worry about score, just focus on every shot. You can’t worry about the rest of the field; you can only worry about your own game and the shot that you’re making.”
Pat and her husband, Joe, are original members of the men’s and women’s associations at Carolina National and have worked hard to grow the game of golf there.
Carolina Shores: Judy Nicoletti. Another gal who didn’t want to be left home while her husband played golf, Judy started playing in her mid-20s.
She was a member at the old Bay Tree Golf Course (now defunct) in Little River, S.C., and won the women’s championship there twice.
“I was sorry when that course shut down. I had lots of good friends there.”
Today Judy belongs to both Carolina Shores and Sandpiper Bay and won both championships this year. She credits hard work and lessons to her success.
“I play in several ladies leagues in the area, practice a lot and take lessons all the time,” she said.
“The short game is important for any championship, and I work on that part of my game.”
This fall, Judy broke the course record for women at Sandpiper Bay, posting a fabulous 67 on the Sand course.
Farmstead/Meadowlands: Billie Elwanger. This is Billie’s third championship at Farmstead/Meadowlands. Round 1 took place Saturday at Meadowlands. Round 2 took place Sunday at Farmstead. The tournament players enjoyed two beautiful fall days.
“I moved to Brunswick County five years ago from Rocky Mount,” she said. “It was 20 years ago that I first got hooked on golf. Only in the last 10 years has my work and home schedule allowed me to play more.”
What is her strategy for winning?
“It is not about the winning,” she said, “but just having a good time with a wonderful group of women.”
Her positive attitude is contagious and represents the true spirit of golf.
The Lakes: Shari Hodson. This retired Marine has lived all over the world but chose Brunswick County to settle down.
“I didn’t have a lot of time to play when I was in the Marine Corps,” Shari said. “I moved into my new home in April of 2002 and have been playing a lot of golf ever since.”
Shari won her championship in a two-hole sudden death playoff against Kitty Fox, who won the championship at The Lakes in ’02, ’03 and ’04.
Shari plays in several local leagues and in CGA and USGA events. This year, she competed in the Eastern Senior Women’s Open in Aiken, S.C.
“I love the game,” she said. “It’s always me against par, not me against anything else. If I win, that’s great, but I play against the course, not against anyone else.”
This year, Shari went to the Curtis Cup Matches in Scotland and was able to play many of the courses around St. Andrews.
Lockwood Folly: Ann Bailey. After winning dozens of women’s championships in several states, including the Maryland State Senior Women’s Amateur twice, and qualifying to play in the National USGA Women’s Championship three times, Ann is struggling with her game because of a mishap last Thanksgiving.
“I used to be a good tennis player (Ann won the West Virginia Women’s Championship years ago) and wanted to show my grandkids that I could still play,” she said. “I fell during the match, broke my elbow and was out of commission for three months.
“I was fortunate to have won this year. I have new clubs and am still not in the greatest shape.”
Two or three days a week, Ann works at the Sea Watch Realty Office.
“I work most weekends and am happy to do it as long as they need me,” she said. “We’ll be really busy next fall because Sea Watch will be showing a Coastal Living Idea Home.”
Magnolia Greens: Pat Vlach. Golf is something squeezed in on weekends for Pat Vlach. During the week, she works full time at the Edward Jones office in Wallace.
This is her second win at Magnolia Greens. Two years ago, Pat won the championship at Magnolia Greens on the 21st hole of the final round.
“I got a shaky start this year, but managed to pull it off,” she said. “I love to practice and I got new clubs this year, so that helped bring my game together.”
Pat plays in the Wilmington Chapter of the Executive Women’s Golf Association. She, like many others, started playing golf because he husband encouraged her to learn the game.
Oak Island: Pam Huggins. This is Pam’s first-ever club championship and she is delighted.
“I had an 8-stroke lead going into the final day,” she said. “I was confident with my lead and thought I had a good chance, but then I played poorly and saw it slipping away from me.”
Pam started playing golf several years ago when she was dating her present husband. “He liked to play golf and I thought it might be fun to try. I loved it from day one. It’s not just the game of golf; it’s all the social activities that surround it. You make a lot of friends when you play golf, there’s always something fun going on.”
Pam is a Brunswick County native.
Ocean Ridge: Jean Maxon. This is Jean’s 10th championship at Ocean Ridge. The tournament is decided over three days of medal play on three different courses.
“This year they predicted heavy rain on the third day, so I thought it might just be a two- day event, and it was,” Jean said. “I was behind after the first round, but came back strong to win it. The championship is always exciting to me. Each time, it feels like the first time.”
Ocean Ridge has four courses (Lion’s Paw, Panther’s Run, Tiger’s Eye, and Leopard’s Chase) and a big membership. According to Jean, the best part is everyone coming out to watch the tournament and then the big celebratory party afterwards.
Rivers Edge: Karen Blanchard. Karen owns property and a membership at Rivers Edge but works full time in the Triangle for the U.S. Environmental Agency. “I’ve been there for over 28 years and am looking forward to retiring to Brunswick County and playing more golf,” she said.
Karen is a good tennis player, and she and her partner just got back from the National Mixed Doubles Tennis Tournament in New Orleans. They qualified by winning the North Carolina State Doubles Championship.
This is her first-ever golf championship. “I am thrilled,” she said. “Golf is different from tennis. You have to concentrate for a longer period of time.”
Karen is still learning the ropes of competitive golf. She inadvertently moved an out-of-bounds stake and incurred a two-stroke penalty in the first round of the championship.
She would like to focus on her golf eventually. “It’s hard to practice when you work nine-hour days and play two sports.”
Sandpiper Bay (see Carolina Shores, Judy Nicoletti).
St. James Plantation: Mary Barclay. This champion started playing golf when she was 9 years old, but then she dropped it until the mid-90s.
Mary won the club championship at Chantilly National in Centerville, Va., in 2002, the year before she moved to St. James.
“This is my first championship at St. James,” she said. “I had a mediocre first round, then came back strong the next round. I was in a zone that day, making putts from all over. I never missed a drive and kept my ball in the fairways, even chipped in on the 15th hole of the Players Club.”
Mary coaches a group of kids from The First Tee of Brunswick County each week.
ELSA BONSTEIN is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at email@example.com.