Originally created 05/21/05

Amateur's 'Masters' stays afloat in family's dedication



There's only one golf tournament in Augusta older than this weekend's Gordon Uhl/Golf Capital Invitational.

It's the one played each April at Augusta National Golf Club.

"Someone once said (the Golf Capital) is the Masters of amateur golf," said Golf Capital tournament director Linda Uhl, whose late husband, Gordon, started the event in 1964.

Since the Masters is a professional tournament, the Gordon Uhl/Golf Capital, which begins today at Augusta's Forest Hills Golf Club, is the longest-running amateur tournament in Augusta.

When Gordon Uhl died in 1994 at age 76, his wife took over the tournament.

Linda Uhl knew what she was doing; she'd been helping her husband with the event since 1967.

"He was very proud of the tournament," Linda Uhl said. "It's just a great tournament. I want to keep it going. When I can't do it, maybe my son can do it, but I've got a few more years."

Alan Uhl, who is Linda's son and Gordon's stepson, has helped with the tournament since the early 1970s. Linda's sister, Rachel Sanders, also helps out.

"My mother and dad had an agreement before he started getting sick that she would carry it on," Alan Uhl said. "It's almost like she decided to make it a family legacy. When something happens to her, I'll keep it going.

Alan, 42, has been aware of the Golf Capital since 1966 when his mother married Gordon.

"The tournament was just something that was real close to Dad's heart, and he had a real passion about it for many years," Alan Uhl said.

The quality of the tournament fields during the years is unquestioned. The list of winners includes Champions Tour player Allen Doyle (four times) and PGA Tour player Charles Howell (at age 14).

"It's fun to sit and watch TV and read the sports and see what they've done," Linda Uhl said.

Other winners include Danny Williams (four times), Terry Ezell (twice), Mitch Marchman (twice), Phillip McCormick, Henry Claussen, Michael Carlisle and Scott Brown.

No one has played in the tournament more times than Augusta's 64-year-old Charles Durand. Before this year, the only one he had missed was "10 or 12 years ago" because of a hip injury.

He's having to sit out this year, too, with a back injury.

"I remember the first tournament, which Cliff Henson won," Durand said. "It was a long time ago, but I remember playing in it and all the good times we had in it. Gordon (Uhl) played in it for many years. He was a very nice guy; he loved golf."

Durand never won the tournament, but he took Doyle into sudden death before losing in 1974.

"I lost it on the first hole of the playoff with a three-putt," Durand said. "I was mostly in the top 10 every year. I always wanted to win it, but never did."

When the Golf Capital started, it was one of the few amateur tournaments in Augusta. It is now part of the nine-tournament Regions Cup series, which started in 1988, but it stands out because of its unique "two tournament" format.

The tournament is a 36-hole stroke play event with a 10-handicap requirement. It also is a team event, starting with the final round when the top-seeded player in a flight is paired with the lowest-seeded player, and so on.

Gordon Uhl and Lucius Bultman, who helped out with the tournament in the early years, came up with the idea.

"Gordon just wanted to have a different golf tournament than anybody else had," Durand said. "I think it's the best amateur tournament (around). It's always professionally handled and always something you want to play in."

Since the beginning, the payoff in merchandise certificates for the high finishers in the individual and team competitions drops off steeply after the top five, which discourages what is known as sandbagging. A sandbagger is a player who purposely shoots above his handicap in the first round because he wants to be put in an easier flight in the final round, increasing his chances of winning.

"I think (Gordon) thought it was a good way to eliminate sandbagging," Linda said of the format. "You're rewarded for good play; it doesn't do you any good to sandbag in this tournament. It makes everybody play their very best."

"The basic idea was that it was a fairer format; it's sort of an equalizer the way it's set up," Alan Uhl said.

Alan Uhl said some golfers during the years have suggested that the format be changed. That isn't going to happen.

"One of the things we take the most pride in is that we still run it the way Dad did it," Alan said. "My mother has never caved into (suggestions that the format be changed)."

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.