GRANITEVILLE — Participants in the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley thought the golf tournament couldn’t get any better after last year’s inaugural event.
Then they found out former President George W. Bush was speaking at the opening ceremony banquet Wednesday night.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” said George Cunningham, a 16-year-old from Tucson, Ariz., before Bush’s speech. “This is so amazing they can get that.”
Bush, the 43rd president of the country, elected in 2000 and 2004, is the honorary chairman of The First Tee. Proceeds from the Junior Invitational go to The First Tee, which supports initiatives for young people through golf, and last year $200,000 was split between the Augusta and Aiken chapters.
The former president delivered his speech at Sage Valley’s Hunt Lodge after the first of two days of competitor-amateur events that also benefit The First Tee. About 40 members of local chapters attended the private banquet along with event organizers and participants, according to a news release issued late Wednesday.
The 54-hole tournament begins Friday and ends Sunday.
For its first event in 2011, Sage Valley brought in the father-son tandem of professional golfers Jay and Bill Haas to speak to the players and secured PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem to award the trophy to winner Nicholas Reach.
The presence of Bush, though, was another welcome attraction for the players and others who attended the private event.
“Oh, gosh, for sure,” said 14-year-old Brad Dalke, who is from McKinney, Texas.
He said his family is from the Dallas area and supported Bush, who once owned the Texas Rangers baseball club. Before Wednesday night’s event, Dalke said he and the former president have something in common besides golf.
“He’s a huge Rangers fan, like me,” he said.