Strong run for Pro-Am

8/16/2013

It would seem that after 34 years of an event, the excitement would just simply wear out.

It would seem that after 34 years of an event, the excitement would just simply wear out.

But if you thought it might be that way for the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am, then you'd simply be short-changing the only professional golf tournament in Kansas west of Wichita.

The Pro-Am was the brainchild back in the late 1970s of Liberal's Sam Cobb (Liberal C.C. head pro) and Kent Colvin (High Plains Pizza Hut), Dodge City's Larry Burkett (Southwest Distributing), and Garden City's Paul Dart (Dart-In).

That group wanted to bring professional golf to western Kansas, considering that the area finally had several 18-hole golf courses (Mariah Hills in Dodge City, 1974), Buffalo Dunes Golf Course (1976) and Southwind Country Club (1980), now The Golf Club at Southwind.

And bring it they did.

Major golf champion Tom Weiskopf was the first big name to put his tee in the ground in 1983. It didn't hurt that he liked to hunt pheasants in this part of the world, too, when that season opened in November.

Through the years, there have been numerous tournament coordinators, a person usually affiliated with St. Catherine Hospital in their community affairs, public relations department. There have been several head golf professionals at both Garden City courses as well as golf course superintendents.

Even now, well at least for the past four years, the Pro-Am has had a partnership with the Adams Golf Pro Tour Series, a Texas-based mini-tour that has produced the likes of Bubba Watson and Ryan Palmer. Will the winners of those Pro-Ams find their way to the PGA Tour, or even better yet, win one of golf's major championships?

It's not difficult to imagine that, considering the Pro-Am's rich history of developing top professionals.

Consider that Steve Jones, Jim Furyk and Lee Janzen have won U.S. Opens. Weiskopf and Stewart Cink have claimed the claret jug in the Open Championship (some call it the British Open). Bob Tway has a PGA Championship while three-time Pro-Am champion and Kansas native Bruce Vaughan has a Senior British Open title. Weiskopf also is a past U.S. Senior Open winner.

The pedigree is strong in the Pro-Am.

The weather for this year's Pro-Am was nothing short of spectacular. Perhaps it was the best, most consistent weather in the tourney's history. Mild temperatures and light breezy wind conditions made it enjoyable. Add in the rains that helped ease the drought conditions of the area, and players couldn't have asked for more.

It was a far cry from the 1987 Pro-Am when temperatures reached 104 on Aug. 21 (Fri.), 105 on Aug. 22 (Sat.), only to wake up to an Aug. 23 (Sun.) temperature of 53 degrees with a high of 62 for the final round. The wind had switched from 30 mph out of the south to 30 mph from the north.

Now, we can look at Gary Woodland, the Topekan who won his first professional tournament here in 2008. Will he be the next name from the Pro-Am past to win a major? Woodland just won his second PGA Tour title a couple of weeks ago and is finally healthy again. We hope his name will be etched on a major championship trophy soon.

Critical to the success of the Pro-Am is the amateur field — once again 240 strong. They are the backbone of the tournament and what they bring to the event is sponsorships. Most players enter based upon a company's sponsorship in the Pro-Am, and without that, the tourney would wither away.

When the St. Catherine Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit was designated as the tournament's sole beneficiary, it provided the feel-good vehicle to drive the Pro-Am for more than 30 years. It's a credit to the community, southwest Kansas, and the visionaries of those early years.

Also give credit to the staffs at both golf courses for long hours. The maintenance crews were up before the roosters crowed, and were there late in the day after play was completed, manicuring both layouts to make the conditions pristine for the amateurs and pros.

Thousands of babies have been born at St. Catherine Hospital since the Pro-Am started in 1980, and the number is too numerous to count as to the babies who have spent their early days in the NBICU at the hospital. But one thing is certain — many of them are alive today thanks to the care of the doctors, nurses and staff in the unit. They are dedicated, trained professionals and southwest Kansas is fortunate to have the facility. It's the only one between Wichita and Denver.

Standing to the side of the scoreboard area at Southwind on Sunday, the awards ceremony harkened back to the past. Who will be the next great player to have played in the Pro-Am? Will it be Wilhelm Bogstrand, the 2013 champ? Will it be Kelly Kraft, the 2012 titleholder? Or will it be one of the golfers who finished in the middle of the pack, or even maybe missed the cut (remember Furyk in 1992).

8-year-old Taylee Tabor presented the winner's check to Bogstrand and had her picture taken with him. She is another graduate of the NBICU.

One can only hope that the Pro-Am will continue into the future with as much support and excitement that it has produced in its 34-year-history.

Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at bmarshall@gctelegram.com

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