In a perfect world, last weekend’s 50th and final Sunbelt Nissan Golf Capital Invitational at Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club would have had a full field of 128 golfers and a waiting list.
All the regulars and old participants who still play would have turned out to play one more time.
It didn’t work out that way for the longest-running amateur golf tournament in the area. Only 15 showed up in the regular division (there were 41 in the senior division). The low participation among the younger set is the main reason the tournament was discontinued, so the low numbers were fitting in a sad way.
At least the winner of
the regular division, Jeff Pope, appreciated what
the tournament meant back in the days when it was known as the “Masters of the amateur golf.”
In addition to the lack of interest among younger players, another reason for the low numbers last weekend was scheduling. There were two other events in town, and some players who normally play in the Golf Capital chose to play elsewhere instead of honoring the final year of this one.
Linda Uhl, whose husband, Gordon Uhl, started the tournament in 1964, was there until the end. She worked 49 of the Golf Capitals and kept it going after Gordon died in 1993.
If she was disappointed by the turnout, Uhl didn’t show it as she checked scorecards Saturday and Sunday. Mainly, she thanked those who did play and asked them how many times they had played in the tournament.
“Everything has a beginning and an end,” she said after her son, Alan, took down the final name from the scoreboard.
When it was announced that this would be the last Golf Capital, I floated the idea of having a flight for former champions. It didn’t happen, and not many signed up anyway.
One who did was Ron Schroder, who won the regular division in 1987. He completed the circle by winning the senior division last weekend in his first event as a 50-year-old.
“That’s a shame they’re going to stop doing it,” Schroder said of the tournament. “This was always one of the funnest ones.”
Two-time Golf Capital champion Doug Hathaway is a regular on the Regions Bank Amateur Series and wasn’t going to miss this one. The 57-year-old was 22 when he won his first Golf Capital in 1977. Hathaway, who also won in 1990, said he believes he played in 38 of the 50 events.
Hathaway recalled the glory days of the tournament when it was held at Goshen Plantation from 1970-97. The day invitations went out in the mail, golfers rushed to send them back for fear of ending up on the waiting list.
One year, five-time Golf Capital champion Allen Doyle, who lived in Augusta when he was stationed at Fort Gordon, sent his invitation in late. Doyle, who would go on to win four senior majors, including two U.S. Senior Opens, didn’t get to play.
Back in those days at Goshen, there were steak and shrimp dinners after the first round for the players and their guest.
“Boy, were those some good shrimp,” Hathaway said while sitting in the Mount Vintage grillroom after his round Sunday. “We could sit here and tell stories all day long. It’s sad; it’s been a good tournament for 50 years. Linda has put a lot into this tournament.”
“I hate to see it go,” said Mike Jackson, who is in his 60s and first played in the tournament when he was 16 years old. “I knew Gordon really well, and Linda. He was a great guy. He did a lot for golf. It’s like the end of an era.”
There might be a Golf Capital in 2014, but it would be in name only.
Richard Felder, who has helped Uhl run the tournament since her husband died, might bring it back at Mount Vintage as a senior and super senior (65 and over) tournament.
Uhl said she will let him use the name, so Felder is thinking of calling it the Golf Capital Senior Invitational. The seniors-only event won’t have the popular team format that the original Golf Capital had, where players were paired in teams after the first round. That gave them a chance to win as an individual and as a team.
Uhl said if Felder needs assistance running it, she would help him.
“Richard will do another tournament and probably use the name Golf Capital, but it won’t be the same tournament,” she said, her voice cracking.
No, it won’t.