I am sitting here in the international headquarters of East Ridge News Online watching the final round of “The Open” Championship, aka The British Open golf tournament.
Since Irishman Shane Lowry currently has a five-shot lead, it gives me time to reflect on another golf tournament that happened Saturday at storied Brown Acres Golf Club.
There were 92 players who participated in the fourth annual East Ridge Alumni and Supporters Golf Tournament. About three dozen individuals and organizations helped out by sponsoring holes, donating food and beverage, and volunteering their time to make this outing a huge success.
The golf tournament is the East Ridge Alumni and Supporters Association’s (ERAS) biggest fundraiser of the year. Danny Gilbert, the new president of ERAS, said his goal was to net close to 10 grand. I’m hoping they get there.
Raising money is great, but renewing old friendships forged when you were a kid is in a league of its own. And that’s the opportunity this yearly tournament gives everyone whose blood runs orange with Pioneer Pride.
I played in the event, and East Ridge News Online sponsored a hole. My foursome of Mike Kornas, Michael R. Hodges and Roger Kidwell had more fun than should be legally allowed. I rode with Hodges, a ’76 grad like myself, and a hugely successful insurance agent with Allstate. He sponsored a hole and donated some much-coveted “swag,” two dozen Titleist Pro V’s.
He said he was cutting weight, a much too-common venture of men of a certain age. I told him I was down below 200 pounds for the first time in years. Then Hodges said something completely unexpected. “I guess you got on the scales without those Dexter hiking boots that you used to wear? You still got those?”
As a matter of fact, I do. I got them at Martin-Thompson Sporting Goods in downtown Chattanooga in 1975. They must weigh five pounds each. For Hodges to remember the big boots was something special. We talked about some of our classmates and contemporaries who are no longer with us.
ERAS did something special this year, and it was Gilbert’s idea. To remember those who have passed away, he had “In Memory” signs printed up and placed on tee boxes. I helped out in the pre-dawn hours on Saturday by placing sponsor signs and in memory signs throughout the course.
I was by myself hurrying to place the signs when I grabbed one from the cart; the sign said, “In Memory of Mark Robertson, Class of ’76.” Mark was one of my best friends in high school. His life was tragically cut short in September of 1975 when his beloved Mustang somehow crossed over into oncoming lanes of Interstate 75 and collided with an 18-wheeler.
I put the sign in the ground and said a little prayer and looked out over the beautiful vista of the fairways and greens. In this setting I felt grateful that I’ve kept a connection with Mark through his eldest brother Rick, Class of ’70. He’s been a golfing partner of mine for many, many years.
When I reached the next tee box, I reached down to get another sign. “In Memory of Bobby McLeroy, Class of ’67.” McElroy was my B-Team basketball coach and a wonderful guy.
In 1975 I thought McElroy was an old man. I was blessed to play a round of golf with him in the late 1990s when he was dying of cancer. I knew he was sick but you couldn’t tell it from his golf swing. I asked him about the prognosis and I remember his response as clear as day: “It ain’t good, Cookie,” he said while he almost imperceptibly shook his head. What grace and courage.
As we walked down a fairway at Brainerd National, I asked McElroy how old was he when he coached me, Jimmy Cooper, the late Terry Bass, the late Mark Green, the late Mike Gardenhire. “Cookie, I was 27,” he said. That was my last conversation with Coach McLeroy.
That kind of puts stuff in perspective, doesn’t it. When you are a kid, you just don’t comprehend time, do you?
Now, once a year, as old men, we have an opportunity to gather together at a golf tournament and tell lies about what happened in the “glory days.”
If you missed the East Ridge Alumni golf tournament this year, please, please, consider playing or volunteering next year. The golf is a wonderful fundraiser for the organization, no question.
What’s even better is renewing the bonds that you formed with others when you were young.
I’m old enough now to appreciate the phrase, “youth is wasted on the young.”
In Memory of: Benny Helton, Gene and Karen Helton, Conrad Bumgarner, Connie Maxwell, Buddy Parker, Mike Agnew, Charlie Goss, Sharon and Karen Williams, Raymond James, Tom Rhyne, Derrick Darby, Mark Rector, Raymond McDowell, Randy Smithson.