County Am has remained a staple for 50 yearsJuly 19, 2019
By JERRY BIRGE
Special to the Herald
It may have been a half century ago, but I remember it well. I had just watched Billy Casper outlast Gene Littler in an 18-hole playoff on Monday to win the 1970 Masters golf tourney. It proved to be the last 18-hole playoff in the Masters, which went to a sudden-death format in 1976.
Jasper had recently opened a new 9-hole golf course — the Parks and Recreation Department’s Municipal Golf Course (since renamed the Buffalo Trace Golf Course) — giving Dubois County three golf venues, the other two being the Jasper and Huntingburg country clubs.
I wasn’t much of a golfer (as anyone who ever played with me will confirm), but I was really impressed with the playoff finish of the Masters, and I told my wife Maggie that it would be great to have a countywide golf tournament in Dubois County since we now had three courses. She agreed, and I walked across the street to the apartment of the Jasper Country Club’s new golf professional, Dick Martin.
I ran the idea by Dick, and he said, “Let’s do it!” He promised to help get it organized and would serve as the starter/referee for the tournament if we could come up with a tournament sponsor.
That was easy. We went to my boss, Herald managing editor Jack Rumbach, the next morning, and told him of our plans for the tournament. He liked the idea, vowed his and the paper’s full support, and the Dubois County Amateur Men’s Golf Tournament was born.
That was a long time ago. How long ago was it? Well, Richard Nixon was in the second year of his presidency, and few people knew anything about the Watergate Complex. Jack Newton was mayor of Jasper, and Dale Helmerich the mayor of Huntingburg. To really show how long ago it was, Vance Hartke and Birch Bayh were our U.S. senators, and they were both Democrats!
We initially called it the Dubois County Open, which, of course, it wasn’t since it was open only to Dubois County residents or golfers who played the majority of their golf at one of the three county courses. We played the first tournament on a single weekend — Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Everyone was allowed to ride in a cart and most of them did, even the youngsters. The tournament attracted 48 golfers and a rather large gallery of fans, and we knew we had come up with something special. The folks at the two country clubs and the Jasper Muni course gave us their full cooperation. There were a few hitches over the 54 holes of golf, but it was something new and nobody complained.
Those early years were unique. When I needed help to post scores on a big scoreboard, I turned to four of my five daughters — Joan, Marlene, Marilyn and Marcia. They, and a number of their friends, kept the scores posted for the spectators for a number of years. My youngest daughter Jennifer, who was born between the first two tournaments, remembers how she anxiously looked forward to growing up to join her sisters on the scoreboard team. She finally did. I was proud of my girls volunteering every year, but I also knew they looked forward to the hot dogs, hamburgers and soft drinks they consumed during each tourney…that may have been the main reason they volunteered.
The tournament grew quickly with a few immediate changes. A board of directors was created to oversee the tournament and the format changed from Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to two weekends, Saturday and Sunday the first weekend and the final round the following Sunday. The size of the field grew quickly, and that format gave us an automatic rain date (the second Saturday), if needed, and a cut after 36 holes with the low 48 scores (plus ties for 48th) advancing to the final round. Everyone was required to walk the course, except for golfers 50 years of age or older who could ride carts. It got to be a joke around the county how so many golfers anxiously looked forward to turning 50.
The field grew quickly in those early years, and since all three venues were only nine-hole courses, we had to limit the size of the field. Entries had to be mailed, and if we had to close the entries, it was based on the entry postmarks. Somewhere along the line the board decided the top 10 finishers would automatically be qualified for the next year but the other entries were based on the postmarks.
The tournament was like a rolling stone, it kept picking up momentum as the years rolled by, and the entry list soared over the 100 mark. I had the pleasure of being the tournament director for 25 years. Even after our family moved away from Jasper in 1983, I continued with my tournament duties for 12 years before stepping down after the 1994 tournament.
I have many fond memories of those 25 tournaments. Bill Dittmer Jr. of Huntingburg quickly became the man to beat, as he won the first two tournaments and three of the first four. Bill, who played out of the Huntingburg Country Club, went on to win in 1982, 1985 and 1990, giving him six big silver trophies, the second most wins in tourney history.
After Dick Martin’s tenure as starter referee ended, Skip Place, a professional golfer when the tournament began, served as our starter/referee before giving up his professional ranking, returned to the amateur ranks and entered the tournament as a player.
He did quite well, winning five titles between 1977 and 1995. Brad Bolling of Holland matched Place’s total with five victories between 1987 and 2012. Brad’s win in 1987 started an incredible chapter in the tournament’s history. He didn’t win again until 1996, but from that point on, he and his son Derek claimed a staggering 15 championships from 1996 to 2012. Derek rolled up a tourney-high 11. Brad won again in 1998, Derek won in 1999 and 2000, when he also won the Steve Seger Youth Award, Brad again in 2001 and Derek in 2002 and 2003 before John Parker stopped the Bolling Express in 2004, winning the tournament championship and the Senior Award. But then Derek went on a roll, winning five titles in a row from 2005 to 2010. Brad stopped that streak by winning in 2011 before Derek claimed the Bollings’ last trophy in 2012, 11 titles for Derek, five for Brad.
Besides Dick Martin and Skip Place, I remember Mick McCracken and Joe Todrank serving as starter/referees along with a young golf pro from Owensboro whose name I just can’t remember. Their help and the help of many folks from the three golf courses, Herald sales manager Ed Rumbach and the many men who served on the board of directors provided me with helping hands needed to make the tournament succeed.
I surrendered my duties after George Nord won back-to-back titles in 1993 and 1994, giving him three titles overall. Eric Olinger (1974, 1981, 1992) and E.J. Stenftenagel (1978, 1979, 1984) also won three. In more recent times, Cam Weyer (2014 and 2017) and Jacob Bartley (2015 and 2016) have both claimed two championships, the only other multiple winners in the 50-year tourney history.
The two Bollings, Bill Dittmer, Skip Place, E.J.Stenftenagel, Eric Olinger, George Nord, Cam Weyer and Jacob Bartlery have claimed 40 of the first 49 championship trophies. Single winners besides John Parker and Noah Place have been Norb Alles (1972), John Schmitt (1975), Steve Schmutzler (1976), Scott Rohleder (1983), Roger Curry (1989), Will Seger (2013),and last year’s champion, Jeff Sanders.
When they hit the links Sunday for the final round of the 2019 tourney, the participants will be following in the footsteps of a select group of golfers who helped make the Dubois County Am one of the premier tournaments in Southern Indiana.
Jerry Birge was sports editor of The Herald from 1967 to 1983.
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