COVERThere is a new name being engraved on the 2016 Cumberland County Golf Championship trophy. Now in its 48th year, the three-day tournament took place Sept. 16-18 at Cypress Lakes Golf Course, bringing many returning long-time participants as well as new players eager to compete for the title of Cumberland County’s best golfer. In the end, it was 26-year-old Thomas Owen who won the title with a score of 210. 

“It felt great. It was the fifth time I have played this tournament. I got a little better every year, and last year, I came in fifth. It is a big boost to my confidence,” said Owen. “I won match play last year, but to win stroke play — it was a boost to know I can do it. I am honored to have my name on the trophy with guys I have looked up to for years — people like Billy West, Gary Robinson and Chris Holland. I have played with them and admired them for years, and to have my name added to that list of champions feels great … It makes me want to play more and win more.”

The Cumberland County Golf Classic Championship is District Attorney Billy West’s favorite tournament. He’s won the title six times. West has played against Owen before and knew Owen would be a tough competitor. West finished in second place tied with J.C. McFadyen, both carding 214. “I really think golf is a gentleman’s sport. It is a sport where you compete, and you certainly try to win, but there is great camaraderie among the players. It is a social sport because you are out there for hours. Doing that over the years, you develop friendships and learn about the other players. You become friends. I told Thomas, obviously, I wanted to win, but, I was really excited to see him win. He is very deserving. It was about the only thing not on his resume. I almost ended up playing with him, and it seemed that he was maybe feeling some pressure and really wanted to win it. My hat is off to him. I remember when I had yet to win a Cumberland County Golf Championship, and it is like a monkey on your back until you get that done.”

Eight-time winner Gary Robinson was unable to compete this year, which Owen and West both agreed changed the dynamics of the tournament. “I think Gary is coming back next year … I look forward to his return,” said West. “I regret that he missed this year. When he plays, he has a good chance to win, but then again, we all want to win it.”

For Owen this win is an important stepping stone to reaching other goals. He calls himself a late bloomer saying he was pretty good as a youngster, but he chose baseball over golf in high school. He returned to golf in college and started entering competitions. “I played a lot in college. That is where I got better at the game mentally. I remember thinking a few years ago that I knew my game was getting better, but I wanted something to show for it. I want to compete at the state level and even the U.S. Amateur. I knew I needed local success, and now, I did it.” 

Under new management, the tournament underwent some changes in direction and format this year. In the past, the hosting golf course had to shoulder the responsibility for coordinating the tournament. This year, Cumberland County’s five local golf courses worked together forming a planning committee with shared responsibilities under the direction of Bill Bowman, founder and publisher of Up & Coming Weekly. Kevin Lavertu, general manager of Gates Four Golf and Country Club is set to host the 2017 tournament. He kicked off the 2016 event with an elegant Opening Ceremony & Pairings Party, inviting contestants, sponsors, local dignitaries and special guests that included major supporter Mac Healy of Healy Wholesale, Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robertson, Cumberland County Commissioners, State Representative Billy Richardson and N.C. Senator Wesley Meredith. Courtney Stiles, representative for First Tee of the Sandhills was also present and was invited to say a few words about their youth development program, which they hope to establish in Cumberland County. There was much fun, laughter and excitement in the room as the competitors sized up their competition. Each player received a commemorative gift bag with a very special surprise of a free round of golf (for four) at each of the five participating courses. “I think it was a great idea to get everyone together ahead of time. It really built up a sense of camaraderie among the players and generated excitement,” Lavertu said. Gates Four hosts well over 80 tournaments each year. It’s something Lavertu enjoys and he is excited about showing next year’s Cumberland County Golf Classic Championship Classic participants a good time. “We keep the golf course in good playing condition, which of course, is important, but we also look forward to showing everyone hospitality and making sure everyone feels special - like they are a member here — for that weekend.”

The pre-tournament party was new this year, but it’s not the only change in the works for this Cumberland County tradition. According to organizers the CCGC will add a Women’s Division to the tournament. It was announced that Dee Dee Jarman, head basketball coach and senior athletic director at Methodist University, will assist in coordinating that effort. 

Robert Wilson is the PGA Pro at Cypress Lakes Golf Course in Hope Mills, which hosted the tournament this year. There was some pressure being the first to host with so many changes in the works. However, he was impressed with the changes. “The other area golf pros came out and helped, and that made a big difference in the quality of tournament. The main thing is that now that the golf courses are all working together, it will be run consistently each year — and that is a big deal. Now, we will be able to provide the golfers more fun and value for their money … a more competitive experience each year ... and other perks they can use.” He added, “The golf course was in good shape and set up fair. We heard nothing but positive comments from the players. We will look forward to next year and plan to spread the word to our friends about the tournament so they can come out and enjoy it, too.”

Fort Bragg’s Stryker Golf Course PGA Pro Jeff Johnson spent a good part of the tournament at Cypress Lakes. He was pleased that Stryker, and the area’s military golfers, have been invited to join the tournament’s rotation. “I would like to see more military members sign up since we will be the host of the Cumberland County Championship Classic in 2020. I think there is a lot of potential for growth here. We joined a little late in the game, so there wasn’t a lot of time to get the word out. Going forward, it will be easier to promote,” said Johnson. “For the first time of the new format, I think it was wonderful. Seventy-seven players was a good start, and I think we can get more than 100 next year. I heard nothing but positive feedback about this year’s changes. The golfers loved the gift bags … they got their money’s worth and then some. I think the pros working together is going to be good for the tournament. The new committee format lets them know they are not alone.” 

Several local businesses and sponsors provided food and beverages all three days of the tournament, including Healy Wholesale, Chick Fil A, Huske Hardware, Kinlaw’s and Scrub Oaks from the North Side. This was also a tournament first. 

Billy West added, “This was unique from other typical amateur golf tournaments. Everything from the Pairings Party, which I thought was a unique and good way to get things started, to the breakfast and lunch and snacks there. These are the things that build camaraderie.” 

So, congratulations to the 2016 Cumberland County Golf Classic Champion Thomas Owen and to the other three CCGC Division Winners: Andy Palma-Open Division Champion, Rick Goforth-Senior Division Champion and Larry Robertson-Super Senior Champion. No doubt, they all will be returning to defend their titles in 2017. 

Up & Coming Weekly is proud to be associated with this event. Owen’s name will be added to the Legacy Trophy that will be on display and showcased at his home course, Highland Country Club, for the next year. Here, you can see all the champions dating back to 1969. No doubt, 2017 will be one for the record books. Get ready and plan on being at Gates Four next year. Anyone interested in participating in the 2017 CCGC, volunteering to help or be an event sponsor may contact Bill Bowman directly at: [email protected] or 910 391 3859.

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