I went from a high school reunion to a reunion of a band of brothers.
I returned to my hometown of Independence for an unprecedented second straight weekend to take part in the annual Swinging Bridge Golf Tournament at Independence Country Club after having attended my 40th high school reunion the week before.
I have played in this tournament for nearly 20 years, a good chunk of it with my father because it’s always held on Father’s Day Weekend. In fact, this actually started as a Father-Son Tournament decades ago before evolving into a full-blown event.
Indy CC is in immaculate condition as in the nearly 50 years I have played the course it’s never looked better. It's one reason that myself, and my friends, became good golfers because you have to hit an array of difficult shots on the challenging layout.
I now play in the tourney with my best friend and the brother I never had, Craig Dancer, and what makes this so much fun is that many of our high school classmates also return to play. Craig comes every year from North Carolina, while many of the others reside in the four-state area.
About every one of us has a nickname. “CD” and I have partnered for the past several years and there’s also Meek, Monz, Hambone, Sidewinder, Boro — well, you get the picture. Nobody ever is called by their given name.
It’s amazing the staying power The Bridge has had. There were 86 two-man teams in the event (morning and afternoon sessions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and there’s still a waiting list. We play low-ball (better ball) on Friday, scramble on Saturday and alternate shot on Sunday.
Available during the weekend is a complementary breakfast for those who play in the morning and lunch for everyone each day. We are fed prime rib on Friday and then there’s a horserace on Saturday after the completion of play. The Top 10 teams and ties from Friday compete in an alternate-shot format, and it’s a sight to behold as hundreds of spectators line the fairways and behind the greens in their carts, almost like an amphitheater atmosphere.
The weekend, though, is about much more than just the golf. It’s bonding with my buddies as this is the one time of the year we are assured of seeing each other and I think all of us would do anything for each other. It’s amazing to see the golfing talent a town Independence’s size has produced. Many of us still play at a high level even though we’re in our mid to late 50s. Of the seven members on our Indy Juco golf team from 38 years ago, five of us play in the event.
On Friday night, after the horserace auction is taken care of, it’s been a tradition for my group of guys to sit in a big circle on the back patio and then turn the night over to Mark Palmer.
“Meek,” as he has been known since our grade-school days, was a year behind me in school and a top-notch golfer, including his unforgettable championship 69 at El Dorado after he had taken ill from eating some bad chicken for dinner the night before. His brother, Craig, was a former state high school champion and later played No. 1 man for the Kansas Jayhawks. The family patriarch, Galen, still has some game at age 83, so it’s been a golfing family.
Meek, who was my roommate at KU, has experienced a colorful life and once he gets into storytelling mode and oiled up with a few cold ones, it just gets everyone into the flow of sharing their favorite times. I have to be honest, some of the things we did during our high school and college days were beyond belief and I’ll leave it at that.
I equate Meek’s storytelling to the scene out of "Animal House" where John Belushi is at the fraternity talking about how the Germans attacked Pearl Harbor. When he gets on a roll, it’s side-splitting stuff. There are stories that he says I was a part of and I know I wasn’t, but I’m not about to interrupt his spell-binding loquaciousness. And we stay deep into the evening, after which I go home to give my sides a rest as they ache from all the laughter.
This year’s tournament produced a story for the ages and one that will be repeated probably long after I’m gone.
Bryan “Monz” Maskus was one of my very best friends in high school as he called me Dad and I called him Son. An outstanding football, basketball and baseball player growing up, Monz never quite mastered golf despite his athletic prowess.
This year, Monz played with his son, Ben. Ben played his freshman year at Pan American University before transferring to Dodge City Community College, where he competed in the national juco tournament.
CD and I had the good fortune of being paired with the Maskus boys the first two days. They were able to qualify for the horserace with a best-ball of 73 (Ben shot a 73 if that will tell you anything).
I’ve watched the horserace for years (and even made it once) and never can I remember a golfer with an 18 handicap (and that might be generous) being in the field. Golfers alternate shots and it’s a very difficult format.
We all kind of expected that they would be the first or second team eliminated. After all, some of the best golfers in the area compete in this tournament and Monz plays the game more for enjoyment than anything else.
They survived a first-hole chipoff as well as a third-hole chipoff. Amazingly, the Maskuses stayed alive through five holes and then on the sixth, Monz hit the tee ball out of bounds, which figured to be curtains.
Not to worry. Ben made a long birdie putt with their second ball after Monz feathered an iron on to the green and they were still alive.
Now we started getting into the twilight zone. They got past their seventh hole before Monz had to tee off on the eighth hole (actually No. 17 since the back nine is used so there’s room for spectators).
The bloom finally came off the rose as Monz didn’t get off the tee well (“My arms quit working,” he said). It was probably the most improbable run in the history of the tournament as they were finally closed out.
They made it to the final three, which was an amazing accomplishment. It’s a story that Monz will be able to tell until he takes his final breath.
While the golf was important (Craig and I actually placed fourth in our flight to make back some cash), it was more about the bond of a group of longtime friends who will keep coming back until they can no longer swing the club. We truly are a band of brothers and I wouldn't trade them for anybody.