I just finished competing in a local tournament called The Watson Challenge, (yes, it’s named for yours truly) and again for the fourth in as many years, we fought the elements, as it seems that Kansas City during the second week of June is the time for Mother Nature to produce the entire summer’s water needs for the breadbasket of Midwest. More than 9 inches fell during the three days causing real problems for Loren Breedlove, Superintendent of the Kansas City Country Club, leading to the cancellation of the final round of the 54-hole medal play tournament. Fortunately, I was the beneficiary, as I held a one shot lead going into the final round allowing me to claim the rain-shortened victory.
The Kansas City Country Club and I have a long history, as my father was a member and this was where I grew up learning the game – from Dad but also Paul Weiler, the head pro. Every Thursday morning in the summer Paul had a junior day where he would herd all us cats on the practice tee to teach us the rudimentary lessons of the game. Then we were allowed to go out and play on the course. I’ll never forget my very first junior golf day with Paul. None of us kids were allowed to touch a club! Instead of being taught how to hit a golf ball, we learned how to behave on the golf course, the etiquette, and then the rules of how the game is played. From the penalty shots you incurred when you hit your ball into a water hazard to keeping quiet as someone else played his shot, we were forced to sit quietly as Paul taught us the “directions” on how to really play the game. The swing lessons came later, but the knowledge of how the game was supposed to be played was deemed by our elders to be the most important thing to teach us newbies…and looking back on it now, the right way to start kids, or anyone for that matter, in the game.
The Watson Challenge was an idea I had been mulling over several years before finally putting a plan in place five years ago to make it a reality. I sensed that our local players had lost some of their competitive drive as more and more clubs stayed open on Monday (for financial reasons), traditionally the day off for the local golf professionals…. a day when they could go out and compete in tournaments or just play some money games between themselves. These days were noticeably gone as more and more pros skipped Monday as a day to play.
The amateur tournament scene also seemed lacking as some of the tournaments that I so looked forward to playing in my youth, were dropped from the schedule because of not enough player interest.
So I decided to start a tournament to “determine the best golfer in Kansas City.” One has to live in the eight counties generally thought of as Greater Kansas City to be eligible. The best pros and amateurs were our target field and through the Midwest PGA Section’s yearly Player of the Year points list and the Kansas City Golf Association’s yearly amateur State Line Tour points list, we comprised a 40 man field of pros and amateurs with and additional 8 sponsor’s exemptions, one of which I received. This year we added a qualifying day for 7 players as well as gave sponsor’s exemptions to two of the best junior golfers in the area.
Now our field was about the best it could be.
With the generosity of many sponsors, our host golf clubs and their members, and the KCGA and the Midwest Section of the PGA, we now have a tournament that the golfers of KC strive to get into. They are playing more competitive events, both amateur and professional, just to have the chance to play in The Watson. This is bringing back the great competitive KC golfing community as I knew when I was a kid with starry eyed dreams of becoming a professional.
And with such sponsors such as Sprint, Cerner, American Family Insurance, The Kirk Foundation and the many hosting club members who have generously contributed their money, time, and efforts, our local chapter of the First Tee of Greater Kansas City’s Scholarship Foundation has benefited as well as our golfing community.
I don’t mean to brag, but since the first tournament four years ago, I have personally laid down the challenge to all the golfers of KC to see if they can beat this 60-year-old, long-in-the-tooth pro with an artificial hip. The first year they did…in the name of the host club’s (Hallbrook CC) assistant professional, Blake Graham, who bested Sean Dougherty and me in a playoff. But since then, they haven’t had as much success at Milburn CC, Shadow Glen GC, or this year at the KCCC. With the added pressure of being the favorite at the course on which I grew up, I luckily prevailed one more time over a very consistent Clay Devers.
Since its beginning The Watson Challenge has had the wonderful combination of people, golf, and charity, adding a wonderful new chapter to golf in Kansas City. I hope the streak continues, but fear Father Time will take his toll before too long. As to Mother Nature…please show us some mercy next year!
Kansas City, Monday June 14