It’s a tradition unlike any other.
The Masters you say?
No, the Swinging Bridge.
Yes, it’s my annual pilgrimage to my hometown of Independence, Kansas, for a three-day golf tournament that could also be called “old home week.”
It’s called the Swinging Bridge because there’s a bridge that separates holes 4 and 7, both par-3s. In the old days the bridge would sway when you walked or drove your cart over it, but it is now much more fortified.
I have no idea how long the tournament has been played under its current format, but I know I’ve gone for some 20 years. I used to play with my late Dad, played a couple of years with Cliff Hawkes and for the past several years have played with my best friend from childhood, Craig Dancer.
We play a practice round on Thursday, then Friday is a low-ball competition, where the best score of the two-man team counts. Saturday is a scramble format, which Craig and I tore up last year as we actually shot one of the best scores of the day with a 67. Then on Sunday is the modified chapman event, where we both drive the ball, pick the best one and then alternate in from there. That’s the format we always seem to struggle with, but we’ve been better the last few years.
The tournament draws nearly 180 players as they really do it right with a dinner on Friday and party on Saturday, as well as provide us with breakfast and lunch, not to mention there are numerous prizes as well as the horserace on Saturday, where 10 teams play an alternate-shot format and those not in the tournament follow in their carts. It’s like a Mardi Gras as golf carts flood the course to spectate the event.
Craig and I have been friends from grade school and our parents were best friends. He now lives in Tennessee, so it’s quite a trip for him. Neither of us have any family left in Indy, as we both lost our parents, with Craig’s mom being the last to pass just a couple of years ago. “The Princess” was like my second mother and she always told me I was the level-headed one and it was my job to keep Craig out of trouble during our mischievous high school days.
What makes this tournament so much fun is that the guys we went to school with — and played junior high, high school and college golf with — also come back. It’s become a ritual that after Friday night’s steak dinner, about a dozen of us sit on the back patio and talk about “the good ol’ days” and how we are probably lucky to still be alive. Putting it simply, we were “boys being boys” and were never lacking for a good time. We may have paid the price the next day, but we were definitely a group that lived life to the hilt. The stories have been told thousands of times, but I never, ever tire of hearing them. My main man Mark “Meek” Palmer is the chief storyteller and keeps us in stitches.
Now we’re all getting longer in the tooth, most of us around 60. We’ll still probably be the last to leave the party on Friday as they’ll turn out the lights on us, but that will be after hours of bellyaching laughter. We truly are a band of brothers and I know if I ever need their help, they’re just a phone call away. They would help me no matter what and I would do the same for them.
Craig and I always take time on Thursday when we arrive to drive around the old hometown. We go past the homes we grew up in and I can say I hardly recognize the old Sell house on West Beech Street that our family occupied for nearly a half century. It practically brings a tear to my eye remembering my family days.
The town also is not nearly as vibrant as the 1970s. Hard times have hit not just Independence, but all of Southeast Kansas. There were some nearly 12,000 people who lived there back in the 1970s, but now it’s under 10,000. But for one weekend, we’re there to breathe a little life back into the town.
And it’s always good to see some of my other friends. While McPherson has now been home for almost 40 years, Independence is my original home and I’ll never forget the people there. It was a great place to grow up and made me the person I am today.
It’s going to be four days of fun in the sun and I can hardly wait. I’m sure there will be new stories told and most of all it’s a chance to see my oldest friends and reconnect. I’m sure there will be a lot of laughs and even a few tears when it comes time to leave. You never know how much longer we’ll do this, but Craig and I have made a pact we’ll do it as long as we’re physically able.