01 coverEditor’s note: Check the Up & Coming Weekly Facebook page for updates on rain dates due to Hurricane Florence.

History. Prestige. Family.

Those are words heard over and over again when you talk to golfers, sponsors and friends of the Cumberland County Golf Championship.

The long-running staple of the golfing community in Fayetteville and Cumberland County marks its 50th anniversary this weekend, Sept. 14-16, at Gates Four Golf & Country Club with the 54-hole flighted competition for men and the revamped 36-hole edition for women.

Here’s a preview of this year’s tournament, looking at the history and sharing the thoughts of some of the best players and major sponsors as to why this event has been a must on the calendar of the county’s golfers for so many years.

The history

Chip Beck has competed in some of the biggest golf tournaments in the world, including the Masters and the U.S. Open. But some of his fondest memories on the golf course were back in the late 1960s when he took part in the earliest days of the CCGC. 

“It was one of the most fun events I played in all year,’’ Beck said. “It wasn’t very expensive to get in, and it had the biggest trophies I ever saw. I think they were the biggest trophies I ever got.’’

What made it extra special for Beck was the competition, going head-to head with friends like Jim Adams, Ernie Massei, David Canipe, Andrew Stiles and Chris Newman.

“It was like (being) king for a week,’’ he said of winning. “You got to be king amongst your buddies. We had a lot of fun with it.’’

Beck said golf has always held a special place in both the state of North Carolina and in Cumberland County, which are among the reasons he thinks the county championship has survived all these years, even through some lean periods.

“What better way to spend time with your friends,’’ he said. “It’s nice to see how you compete on the city and county level.’’

It was those early experiences in the county championship, Beck said, that helped motivate him in his pursuit of a career on the professional tour. “You have a sense of ... that relaxed concentration and joy that comes from playing a high level of golf,’’ he said, “Playing with your friends, playing in your community. I just felt it was the emotion and feeling I’d like to have and that I tried to carry on through all my golf. If you don’t want to be there, it’s not going to happen for you.’’

Robert Wilson, currently the golf pro at Cypress Lakes, remembers a time when the county championship was held on two courses at the same time. There were leaderboards on the course and people were kept updated on how the field was doing.

He praised Up & Coming Weekly publisher Bill Bowman for his recent involvement in the tournament and an effort to restore the event to the glory days of the 1980s.

“The better golfers in each division in Cumberland County mark it on their calendars and wouldn’t miss it,’’ Wilson said. 

The sponsors

Billy Richardson of The Richardson Firm and Mac Healy of Healy Wholesale are both strong supporters of the Cumberland County Golf Championship and cite similar reasons for their commitment.

Richardson said he grew up watching golfers play in the CCGC every year, citing Chip Beck, Chris Newman, Billy West and Mike Williford as people he watched hone their skills in the tournament.

“The quality of golf here (and the rivalries through out the years) for a community of this size is amazing,” he said. “It’s such a good thing for the community. Being a small part of reviving the tournament, and especially of celebrating 50 years of it, is our privilege. As long as Up & Coming Weekly is sponsoring and participating in it, we plan on being a sponsor as long as they ask us to.”

Healy’s business has been in Fayetteville since 1978. He said his family always watched the CCGC with great interest and that he was glad to be approached about being a sponsor because of the tournament’s great tradition. 

“Part of it is giving back to the community,’’ he said. “This is amateur golf as its best. These guys are businessmen or lawyers or sell insurance or whatever the case may be. To all get together in a great fellowship once a year like that, it’s a thing you want to be involved in from a business standpoint. It’s what Fayetteville is all about. The locals have an opportunity to showcase their wares.’’

Healy said there is great golf opportunity available here, with good public and private courses. “The community has always embraced golf,’’ he said. “We don’t have to pay the Pinehurst No. 2 rates to get out and play a round of golf here. That’s what makes it so appealing to everybody.’’

The Everyman concept is a big part of the success of the CCGC, Healy said. “The guy bagging groceries is as likely to win the darn thing as a guy that practices every day and has lessons.”

Wally Hinkamp, who owns Hinkamp Jewelers, has feelings about the tournament that are deeply personal. His brother, the late David Hinkamp, was a former champion of the CCGC, and Wally said it held a special place in his brother’s heart.

“He was a pretty good athlete, but golf was his passion,’’ Wally said. David got his first golf lesson from the late Julius “Jack” Willis back at the old Green Valley Country Club in the early 1970s. “From that day forward, he was in love with the game of golf,’’ Wally said.

David won the tournament in 1986, and Wally said it remained a special memory for David until his untimely passing. “He knew all the guys in the tournament,’’ Wally said. “They were all buddies and played together all the time. It was like getting a big group of friends (together) on a Sunday and playing against each other. That’s the reason it was so special. It was people they personally knew and not just strangers.’’

Wally said he hopes Bowman and the many other sponsors of the CCGC will continue to work to make it the great event it once was. “It’s always been a well-run event, and it’s held a special place in my family’s heart all these years and will continue to,’’ he said.

 

 In previous incarnations of the CCGC, a separate competition was held for women at a different time and location.Since last year, the women have been competing on the same dates and course as the men. That will continue this year with one major change. The women will play 36 holes versus 54 for the men.

DeeDee Jarman, deputy director of athletics at Methodist University, suggested the change to 36 holes for the women to Bowman in an attempt to increase participation. “The average age of the female golfer these days is 50 and above,’’ Jarman said. “Some women may not be able to withstand the heat and physical demands of playing a three-day tournament.’’

Jarman added that it makes logistical sense for the women to play at the same time and location as the men. “The committee is not doing double work and it’s a big showcase for area golfers,’’ she said. “I think it’s a big draw that both are being held at the same time. This being the 50th year – it’s going to be a great event.’’

She also saw it as an opportunity to continue bringing the women’s tournament back while giving them a chance to share the spotlight with the men.

“I would like to see the females be just as strong,’’ she said, referring to the men marking the 50th anniversary of their tournament. “We want to make sure the women feel involved and connected, not (like) just tagalongs. Let’s get the field as strong as we can and support this tournament.’’

The players

Billy West and Thomas Owen represent both the old and the new in CCGC history. Owen graduated from Terry Sanford in 2007 and put up a fierce battle with West last year before West took the title.

It was a special win for West, who won the tournament 20 years earlier and wasn’t sure if the time had passed for him to have another opportunity at taking the championship.

“This is my home golf tournament,’’ said West, who serves as district attorney for Cumberland County. “I said it when I started playing it when I was 16, almost 30 years ago, and I’m still saying it. I think it’s because of the exposure ... and the recognition you get among your family and friends and coworkers. It’s really different than any other tournament you play in.’’

West used to be active in tournaments on the state and national level, but there’s still something about the Cumberland County Golf Championship that sets it apart from everything else. “There just wasn’t the same recognition you get from playing well in the county championship,’’ West said. “That always made it special. My favorite tournament has followed me through my lifetime.’’

A hallmark of the tournament for West is the camaraderie that comes with it. He considers himself one of the older guys in the field now, joining a long list of names like Jon Riddle, Gene Howell, Mike Williford, Gary Robinson and Gary Moore who have been in the field for upwards of 30 years.

But he said it’s not just a tournament for veterans. “The new folks like Thomas Owen have embraced and understand how significant it is to the golfing community,’’ West said. 

West said he’s hitting the ball well and playing decent coming into this year’s event and hopes he’s got a chance at victory. “Anybody will tell you it comes down to getting a few breaks and putting well,’’ he said. “Getting the ball in the hole. That’s the big unknown. You won’t know until you get into the weekend.’’

West said he never tires of that final round on Sunday, being in the hunt for the championship. “There’s nothing quite like it,’’ he said.

Owen said this will only be his fifth time playing in the CCGC, but it already means a lot to him because of the deep tradition in Fayetteville golf going back to legends like Chip Beck and Raymond Floyd.He also has a strong connection to West. “As a kid, I looked up to Billy,’’ Owen said. “He’s become a great friend and kind of a golf mentor to me.’’

Owen feels he’s had better success in match play competition than stroke play, but he’s hoping experience in tournaments like the CCGC will improve his efforts in stroke competition. “I’m glad to see this championship revitalized by Bill Bowman and Up & Coming Weekly,’’ Owen said. “When (hearing) stories about how there used to be hundreds of people in the tournament on different golf courses, you wish you were a part of that.’’

After a good summer of tournament golf, including the Carolinas Amateur and the North Carolina Amateur, Owen feels he’s ready for another try at the CCGC title. “Golf is a fickle game,’’ he said. “For me, a lot of it comes down to driving and putting. You’ve got to put it in the fairway and make some putts.’’

The course and format

Kevin Levertu, general manager at Gates Four Golf & Country Club, said this year’s participants and spectators won’t be seeing any major changes in the tournament. The entry fee for the flighted tournament will be $175 for men and $145 for women. 

The entry fee includes range balls, a commemorative gift, trophies, prizes and an invitation to the pre-tournament pairings party on Thursday in the main ballroom at Gates Four. 

“This is the biggest event of the year,’’ Levertu said. “People pull out of other events to make sure they are geared for this event. People want their name on that trophy. It continues to push forward and thrive with the resurgence of Up & Coming Weekly coming on board to make sure it’s around another 50 years.’’

Despite the blistering heat in recent weeks, Levertu said the course is in great shape for the tournament. “We need to continue irrigating and make sure we keep the greens from drying out,’’ he said.

Spectators are reminded that they will not have access to carts during the tournament, and they are asked while walking the course to adhere to the rules and stay on the cart paths.

For those who don’t want to walk to watch the golfers, Levertu said there are areas around the new pavilion at the clubhouse where they can sit and view action on multiple holes. “That would be a good place to see some good golf,’’ he said.

Giving back

There will be a ceremony recognizing the winners in the pavilion after the tournament. During the ceremony, Bowman will make a donation to the Kidsville News Literacy & Education Foundation and the Kay Yow Cancer fund. 

Founded in 2011, The Kidsville News Literacy & Education Foundation is a recognized nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation under the laws of the state of North Carolina and provides free reading and educational resources to Cumberland County and Fort Bragg schools.

In addition, the foundation awards grants to qualified organizations for the purpose of promoting education and improving literacy among America’s youth. 

The Kay Yow Cancer Fund was founded in 2007 from the vision of Kay Yow, former N.C. State University head women’s basketball coach. 

“It was DeeDee Jarman who advocated for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund,” Bowman said. “She thought it would tie in nicely while developing the CCGC Women’s Division.”

Chasity Melvin is a former Lakewood High School and N.C. State basketball star who led the Wolfpack to the North Carolina Athletic Association Women’s Final Four and played 12 seasons in the Women’s National Basketball Association. She was inducted in the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. She is currently the coordinator of development for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. 

“The Kay Yow Cancer Fund is a homegrown, nonprofit organization here in North Carolina, started by our late, great mentor, hall of fame coach, N.C. State’s Kay Yow, who was extraordinary,” Melvin said. “She had a vision to raise money for all cancer research affecting women. Even though she battled breast cancer most of her coaching career, she didn’t want to just fund one cancer. She wanted to fund all research affecting women with all cancers and serve the under-served. 

“She didn’t care. Small, big, multi-billion-dollar companies, she was all about uniting communities for a common cause. She really felt like whenever someone wanted to participate or sponsor the cancer fund, she was really adamant about getting the community involved, uniting them and spreading awareness.

“I ... want to just say a special thank you to Bill Bowman for really taking charge and bringing more awareness back to this golf tournament. Personally, from my own standpoint, working in a nonprofit organization and working at the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, I know how challenging it can be to get people onboard. Once they really learn what the cause is they’re supporting, you can’t help but want to be a part of it. I’m glad he sees the big picture. It’s so much more than golf. It’s so much more than money. For him to get behind the cause that affects many women in North Carolina, especially rural areas outside of Fayetteville, this is really great.’’

Register for the 50th CCGC online at www.cumberlandcountygolfclassic.com.Email klavertu@gatesfour.com or call 940-425-6667 with questions

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