David Westin

Sports columnist and copy editor for The Augusta Chronicle.

The Sunbelt Nissan Golf Capital Invitational to be retired after April's tournament

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Invitations for the 50th – and final – Sunbelt Nissan Golf Capital Invitational were sent out last week.

Yes, that’s right – the final one.

Co-tournament directors Linda Uhl and Richard Felder announced last week that they are retiring the oldest-running amateur tournament in the area.

The golden anniversary of the event, which The Augusta Chronicle once dubbed the “Masters of area amateur golf,” will be played April 27-28 at Mount Vintage Plantation.

“She and I discussed it: it’s the 50th anniversary and we just feel like it’s a good time to retire it,” Felder said.

“Fifty years is a good run,” said Uhl, whose late husband, Gordon Uhl, started the tournament in 1964.

The Uhls married in 1966 and Linda Uhl has worked on every Golf Capital since. After Gordon Uhl died in 1994 at age 76, she headed it up, with Felder’s assistance.

“I get emotional now just thinking about it,” Linda Uhl said when asked how she’ll feel when the last score is posted on April 28.”It’s sad because it’s the end of a great journey.”

The main reason for the demise of the tournament is lack of participation. Of the nine Regions Bank Amateur Series events last year, the Golf Capital had the second-best turnout with 80 players. But that’s a far cry from its heyday in when the field of 128 players filled up so fast there was a waiting list.

All of the area’s great amateurs played, and most won it. The list of winners include former Augustan Allen Doyle (four times), Danny Williams (four times), Charles Howell, Scott Brown, Michael Carlisle, Phillip McCormick, Terry Ezell, Henry Claussen, Mitch Marchman and Tripp Kuhlke.

“The participation in the tournament and the Regions tournaments is dwindling,” Felder said. “It’s not worthwhile to continue in the form it is today.”

Said Linda Uhl: “It just seems like in the last couple of years we haven’t got much participation.”

After being at Goshen Plantation from 1964 through 1997, the tournament was played at three different courses before it found a home at Mount Vintage in 2008 when Sunbelt Nissan’s Mike Watson stepped forward to be the title sponsor.

“The tournament wouldn’t have gone on this long if it hadn’t been for Mike Watson,” Felder said. “He came along and put his heart and soul and money into it.”

Players won’t be the only losers when the tournament is discontinued. So will Augusta State golf. When Gordon Uhl died 19 years ago, his wife created a scholarship fund in his name, funded by $10 from each entry fee. The money raised – anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 each year, Linda Uhl said – goes directly into a scholarship fund for Augusta State golfers. Uhl picks the players who gets the funds, with the focus on area players on the team. Former recipients include Taylor, Carter Newman, Jamie Felder, Cody Shafer and Stephanie Bennett. Since Augusta State started a women’s team in 2002, the scholarship money has split between the men’s and women’s teams.

ROCKY BRANCH’S NEW LIFE: Al Holloway has been at Lincoln County’s Rocky Branch Golf Club since it opened in 1996, serving as head pro and general manager.

Now, after a few “rocky” years for the club, Holloway has added another title: co-owner.

Holloway and Randall Edmunds, along with four other investors have bought the course from F&M Bank of Washington, Ga., which had run it for more than 2½ years after it went into foreclosure.

On Dec. 31, F&M Bank told Holloway it planned to close the course unless a buyer came forward.

“They gave me two months,” he said.

After he and Edmunds stepped forward, four other investors, who are silent partners, joined in too.

The group bought the course on Jan. 24 and officially took over on March 1.

“We have been saved,” Holloway said. “It looked like we were going down the tubes. Now it’s the same management, just new owners.”

After the course went into foreclosure, Holloway said some people thought it had shut down.

“I’d go to Augusta to eat and people would come up to me and say, ‘what are you doing now that Rocky Branch is closed?’ ”

It never closed, he told them. Now he can tell them the future is bright.

“This time, it is different,” Holloway said of the ownership group, “because I’ve got cash involved. But I’ve always tried to run it right.”

Holloway, a Lincolnton native, has always seen Rocky Branch as a positive for the county. That’s because 70 percent of its business comes from Columbia, McDuffie, Wilkes, McCormick and Richmond counties, he said.

“The golf course is very important,” Holloway said.

“It brings a lot of sales. We need it for our tax base. It’s not like people come here for our grocery store, but they’ll come to our golf course.”

Holloway said green fees and membership rates won’t go up. Prices will not go up during Masters Week either. They never have anyway, he said.

They will remain the regular $30 Monday through Friday ($25 for seniors) and $35 for all ages on the weekends.

“We get more local area people playing that week (than Masters visitors) because most courses go up so high, the locals get run out of town,” Holloway said.


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