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Each year, when I speak to all the men’s and ladies’ club champions prior to The Brunswick Beacon Tournament of Champions, I’m always impressed by the many roads to success in golf.
Some of these guys started on the road to championship golf when they caddied for their dads. Others learned to play at public courses. As they walked and carried their clubs side by side with their buddies, they learned golf and friendship are inextricably bound.
Some champions had lots of lessons, others had none. Some played corporate golf and others played on military bases overseas. Most of them have played and practiced a lot.
I don’t report handicaps or compare previous scores in this champion’s column. As far as I’m concerned, these 30 men and women are the best of the best for 2008. They played scratch golf against the field and over a few shining days, became champions of their home course.
On the first day of the Tournament of Champions, everyone starts out equal.
The Tournament of Champions will be contested Saturday and Sunday on the Maples Course at Sea Trail Plantation. Come on out and “cheer for your champ.” Tee times begin at noon. Here’s the field:
Brick Landing: Norm Harding
This is Norm’s third year to represent Brick Landing in the Tournament of Champions. He loves the hard realities of medal play and won over two days of stroke play at “The Brick.”
“Some guys don’t like to play medal or stroke play tournaments; they prefer team or net events, but this is my favorite game,” he said. “It’s real golf.”
The last hole at the Brick is a long par 4 with a pond on the left, the Intracoastal Waterway on the right and a second pond in front of the green.
“I had sliced into the waterway the last few times I played before the championship,” Norm said. “On the last day, there was a bunch of people up on the clubhouse porch watching us come in. I hit it dead straight into the middle of the fairway and that made me feel really good.”
Norm is the food columnist for The Brunswick Beacon.
Brierwood: Chris Lane
Like Norm, Chris loves blood and guts golf.
“I played in the Wilmington Open this year and loved every minute of it,” he said. “You never move the ball, you count every stroke and grind it out.”
Chris started playing golf when he was 6 years old at a little nine-hole course called Dogwood Valley near Caroleen.
“It was a cotton-mill town,” he said. “Everyone played golf after work, sometimes just a few holes. The course wasn’t fancy, just nine holes cut out through the hills. There was no irrigation system and everyone walked. Membership cost $50 a year and the kids stored our clubs under the clubhouse.”
Chris’s mother played golf. When he was learning the game, she told him, “hit it hard and worry about where it goes later.”
Brunswick Plantation: George Tuccinardi
Although George started playing golf when he was 10 years old, this is his first-ever club championship.
“I came in second a few times, but this is my first win,” he said.
George grew up near Elmira, N.Y., and caddied at a local course there. After coaching basketball for most of his life, George moved to Brunswick County in 2000. Today he works on the maintenance crew at The Pearl.
A golfer who loves to practice, George often grabs his sticks after work.
“I don’t hit buckets of balls,” he said. “I chip and putt and hit short shots from all angles around a green. I practice for at least an hour, three times a week. When I play golf and see a weakness, I’ll go out afterwards for 20 minutes and work it out.”
Carolina National: Mark Greenfield
Mark won the championship at Carolina National shortly after moving there.
“I was only here for about six weeks,” he said. “They put up the announcement and I signed up.”
When he was kid, Little League claimed him until he discovered golf. Living near the Yale University Golf Course in New Haven, Conn., Mark and his friends would cut through the yard and play the course. Mark went on to play on both his school and college teams.
This is Mark’s third club championship. The others were at Manchester Country Club in Connecticut and at Indian Springs County Club in New Jersey.
“My wife is a good golfer and has won three championships herself,” he said. In fact, we both won in 1993 at Indian Springs.”
A former employee of the IRS, Mark now works at home for a tax firm in Virginia.
Carolina Shores: Gary Stewart
Gary is from Charleston, W.Va. Before moving to the Carolina coast 10 years ago, most of his golf was played on weekends and with clients.
“In the last four years, I’ve played a lot of golf,” he said. “This is my first time winning a club championship and it feels good.”
The Carolina Shores Men’s Association plays a double-elimination scratch match tournament to determine the champion.
“I stayed focused in the tournament,” Gary said. “I played six matches, three of them against one guy.”
Gary shot his age (72) in April, then shot his age (73) once more this fall. He has shot his age nine times now.
“It’s easier to do as you get older,” he quipped. “As your age goes up, the scores go up.”
Gary’s forte is keeping it in the fairway and having a good short game.
Farmstead/Meadowlands: Matt Palmer
This is Matt’s fifth championship at Farmstead/Meadowlands. Round 1 took place Nov. 1 at Meadowlands. Round 2 took place Nov. 2 at Farmstead. The tournament players enjoyed two beautiful fall days, getting their entries in just in time for the Tournament of Champions.
Matt has lived in the coastal North Carolina area all his life. Before living in Brunswick County, he was at Camp Lejeune. At age 12, he began playing golf. Currently, he enjoys working the bag drop at Meadowlands.
“I think people hate me for being a local and winning so much,” he said. “Really though, I enjoy the game and the people. There is nothing special I do to win. All I try and do is to keep the ball in play.”
Easier said than done and one of the biggest challenges in golf.
The Lakes: Rick Weinacht
Another first-time champion, Rick credits the David Pelz Short Game School with getting him to a championship level of play.
“After I went to his golf school, my handicap came down eight shots in three months,” he said.
An engineer who works as a consultant in Nuclear Energy, Rick takes a cerebral approach to golf. His favorite book is “Putting Out of Your Mind,” by Bob Rotella.
“It’s an interactive book that helps you think your putts and calms you down,” he said.
Rick likes to practice by playing the game several times a week. He is also the assistant coach for the South Brunswick Middle School Golf Team.
Lockwood Folly: Jerry Lyons
Like many golfers, Jerry learned to play golf when he caddied for his dad at the age of 12. He attended Mankato State College and played on its golf team. When he transferred to the University of Minnesota, he could not play golf.
“The coach wanted a player with a plus handicap, so I couldn’t qualify for their team,” he said.
While his kids were little, Jerry quit golf. He picked it up some years later when he lived in Holland.
“I worked for the military there,” he said, “and they had a great little 9-hole course that we could play for a nominal fee. I got back into golf and so did my wife.”
During the second day of the championship at Lockwood, Jerry hit a ball out of bounds on the fifth hole.
“I got mad at myself and returned with a birdie on the next hole. By the 14th hole, I was back in contention and went on to win.”
Magnolia Greens: Bill James
Bill, a Wilmington native, has been playing golf since he learned to caddie and worked the Azalea Tournament at the Cape Fear Golf Course. He also caddied for Cathy Johnston Forbes on the LPGA Tour from 1986 to 1989. In 1991, he won the City Amateur in Wilmington.
This is Bill James’ second victory at Magnolia Greens.
“I have had some back problems, but I’m better now,” he said. “My putter is working and that’s a big help.”
Oak Island: Tucker Pacula
Tucker has won four championships in a row at the Oak Island Club. The tournament is decided in two days of medal play. In the first round, everyone plays off the regular men’s tees, then on the second round, the championship flight moves back to the tips.
“Golf is never an easy game, but the wind factor here at Oak Island makes it even more difficult,” he said. “Club selection is very important. In addition, our greens have a lot of roll.”
Tucker is from Winston-Salem and played a lot of baseball in his youth at the local level and on state teams. He began playing golf when he was 16 years old.
He is a builder and has lived in Brunswick County for five years.
Ocean Ridge: Richard O’Connor
This is Richard’s second year as champion of Ocean Ridge. The event this year was shortened to a two-day affair because of heavy rains on the third and final day.
“On the first day at Tiger’s Eye, I stubbed my last putt, a short one, and finished two strokes off the lead,” he said. “That was a real awakening. I knew that bad weather was coming in, so that the second day was crucial. I buckled down and played much better.”
Richard has a power-washing business and works hard from April to July.
“I stop then and concentrate on golf, focus on the championship. I take a month to practice and prepare. Most guys can hit it long and straight, but you need those up-and-down shots. I go out and practice the short game almost every night. If you’ve hit a shot a hundred times, when it comes up in the tournament, you have the confidence to execute it.”
Bill is from Stamford, California, and has been playing since he was a teenager.
Rivers Edge: Terry Sinay
Terry won the inaugural championship at Rivers Edge last year and repeated his win in 2008.
“I played two consistent rounds, hit the greens in regulation and did not have a single three-putt,” he said.
“It’s a privilege to represent Rivers Edge. It’s a great community and everyone comes out to watch the championship. There are always a lot of people standing on the porch of the clubhouse when you come in. My fellow golfers are always encouraging me to play my best. That helps.”
Terry is from Connecticut, and although he has been playing golf for most of his life, last year and this year were his first two championships.
Sandpiper Bay: Bill Calhoun
This is Bill’s third year in a row at champion of Sandpiper Bay.
“I did not have any spectacular rounds this year; I just played well enough to win,” he said. “Golf is funny; sometimes it depends on who is hot that weekend.”
Bill lives in Maryland, where he owns a CPA firm. He tries to get down to Sandpiper for the major events and looks forward to retiring to this area someday.
Sea Trail: Monte Beebe
The championship at Sea Trail was decided over four rounds of stroke play. This is Monte’s second win at his home course.
He plays golf two or three times a week and practices on the off days.
“I played decently during the tournament,” he said. “On the final day, I started out behind the leader by two strokes, but managed to keep it in play. I only missed one fairway and two greens that day. It was my best round.”
Monte sometimes hits the 3-wood off the tee. “It’s my best club and I have confidence in it, he said.
Like many champions, Monte started playing golf when he was a teen, hanging out at a public course with his pals.
St. James: Peter Allen
“I started playing golf at the age of 14,” said the 2008 men’s champion at St. James. “At the age of 17, I paid my way into a club and I’ve been playing competitively ever since.”
Peter is from Michigan and lived in Philadelphia for a number of years. He has won 21 championships at five different clubs. He won the Michigan Amateur once and at the age of 55, qualified to play in the U.S. Senior Amateur. This year, Peter placed 17th in the North Carolina Amateur.
“Consistency is the name of the game,” he said. “In the four days of the St. James championship, I missed only four fairways. I only hit one really bad drive.”
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One player was omitted last week from the women’s champions.
Sea Trail: Marti Kennedy
This is Marti’s first club championship. She won it over three rounds of medal play on the Maples, Jones and Byrd courses at Sea Trail.
“My first round was OK,” she said. “My second round was not good. I remember watching the Olympics the night before the final round. I thought, ‘This is real competition.’ If those kids could perform well in front of the whole world, then I could play my little home course golf tournament. I realized that my stuff was nothing compared to the pressures they had. I put it all into perspective, relaxed, and played good on the last day.”
Marti has been playing more golf this year, two or three times a week, and it has helped her game. She won the Charm Tournament as Sea Trail this year and broke 80 for the first time.
“Golf is the first and only sport I’ve every played,” she said.
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Thanks to Alan Hensely and his wife, Connie, for helping with photos and interviews for the Tournament of Champions.
ELSA BONSTEIN is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.