This past weekend I competed in the annual Swinging Bridge Golf Tournament in my hometown of Independence, which celebrated its 25th year.
I have competed in most of them, first with my Dad, then with Cliff Hawkes of McPherson and now for the past several years with my closest friend in the world, Craig Dancer.
It’s been an interesting evolution to watch. The tournament actually started as the Father-Child Tournament way back in the early 1970s and it was always on Father’s Day. As the youth golf program somewhat waned — back when I played it numbered in the 50s — the Swinging Bridge concept came about to fill the void. A lot of sons came back to play with their fathers, though that’s not nearly the case now.
For $200 we get more than our money’s worth. We get a nice golf shirt, play three rounds with three different formats, with lunch available all three days, not to mention a banquet on Friday night. On Saturday after the regular play there’s the yearly horserace event, which gathers the Top 10 teams from Friday’s round for an alternate-shot shootout.
This is a sight to behold. The golfers tee off on No. 10 and a group is eliminated after every hole. I wish I had taken a photo on my phone to show just how many people follow the horserace. I’m sure there were some 250 to 300 carts out there, some with people jumping on the back to go along for the ride.
Craig and I once made the horserace, only to go out on the first hole. Craig still talks about his tee shot on No. 10 that ended up behind No. 1 green as the holes are side-by-side.
The horserace takes about 3 to 3 1/2 hours to play because after some holes there are chip-offs between the teams that tie on the hole. The furthest from the pin is eliminated.
The championship is always decided on No. 18 with a huge crowd surrounding the green. I knew three of the final four participants this year, including my junior college teammate Clint Goodman, who has won the event in the past. But this year Spencer Smith, who I once was paired against, won the event with his partner Adam Taylor.
There wasn’t much suspense at the end as Clint and his partner Tony Turner struggled on the 18th hole, while the Taylor-Smith team was rock-solid to win with a par.
That set off a wild celebration around the green as they were surrounded by well-wishers and those who had a vested interest.
This tournament, however, isn’t about winning and losing for me. It’s the only time I get to spend with Craig, who I have known since I was 5 and our parents were best friends. He has become a big success in the business world and I’m so happy for him. He has a terrific family and a great life with his wife, Linda, and son, Chad, who is in the military.
Craig and I have placed in the tournament in the past and were in contention to do so again this year, but problems late in our round prevented us from being in the winner’s circle.
But that didn’t matter that much to me. We got to spend quality time together and it was even more special this year since he had lost his mother just a couple of months back. I told him at the funeral that next time we would be getting together for happier times.
Many of my old Independence friends still play in the event and we still have our ritual on the back patio on Friday night where Mark “Meek” Palmer gets into story-telling mode and we fall out of our chairs with our sides hurting from laughter. For most of us this is the only time of the year we get to see each other and we have vowed we’re going to keep doing it as long as our health and schedules permit.
The folks in Independence run a tournament like none other. I think there were 176 players this year and the volunteers who run it do an amazing job. You have to have somebody record the scores, establish the pairings and divide the money because there are six flights with five teams placing in each. The course was in amazing shape, the best I’ve seen it in my 50 years of playing there.
I know Craig and I are already talking about next year and how we want to win our flight. In all the years I’ve gone, only once did I win a flight, that with my Dad. That may have been the happiest I have ever seen him.
The only negative of the weekend is that when I drove by and saw the house I grew up in, they had painted it a nightmarish dark blue. In fact, I drove past it the first time and didn’t even realize it until Craig pointed it out. It literally freaked me out because it had been the same color for more than 50 years.
But other than that, it was another heartfelt trip down memory lane. There really is nothing like going home and being with your lifetime friends and sharing a few moments together again.