Proving that golf truly is a game for a lifetime, 144 top senior amateurs, ranging from the minimum age of 55 to 82, will tee off at Willow Brook Country Club Friday for the 2013 Texas Golf Association Senior Amateur.
In superb condition, the tree-lined fairways and hilly terrain of Willow Brook will test players in two divisions — the Senior Division for those 55 to 64 years of age and the Super Senior for golfers 65 and older. The field is studded with former winners of statewide competitions with defending champion Chuck Palmer of Dallas and former Walker Cuppers John Grace of Fort Worth and Randy Sonnier of Houston leading the way.
Palmer won last year's event in the stifling August heat at Miramont Country Club in Bryan. A member of Royal Oaks Country Club, Palmer, like the rest of the field, will surely enjoy the cooler temperatures expected for the 54-hole tournament that runs through Sunday. Palmer's closest rival last year, Mike Booker, is back in this year's field as is 2011 winner Ron Kilby of McAllen.
Grace, a 2012 inductee into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame, is the only man to win all three of the TGA's annual amateur competitions. He accomplished that feat when he won the 2010 state senior at Odessa Country Club to complement his wins at the state amateur and state mid-amateurs. Sonnier, a winner of one of the final prestigious Briarwood Invitationals in the late 1970s across town at what is now The Cascades Golf Club, could join Grace's elite company with a win at Willow Brook since he already owns state amateur and mid-amateur wins.
"We really have a quality field," Willow Brook Director of Golf Chris Hudson said. "They will be happy with the condition of the course and the cooler weather. I expect some good scores in both divisions because the greens are putting great but will not be too fast."
Hudson said the Senior Division will play the course from about 6,600 yards while the Super Seniors will be looking at a layout measuring 6,300. But Willow Brook, like other East Texas courses, often plays longer than the yardage because of the hills that can diminish the ball's roll on tee shots.
Willow Brook, Tyler's oldest course dating back to 1922, has been receiving good reviews from the players after practice rounds. The original nine holes were expanded to 18 during the early 1950s with noted Dallas architect Ralph Plummer heading up the initial changes. The course was renovated twice since then with Joe Finger of Houston designing holes four, five and six in 1979 and former PGA Tour professional Mark Hayes of Edmond, Okla., tweaking the green complexes in 2001. The result is an engaging modern course with an "old school" feel.
The 2013 edition of the state senior marks the third time Willow Brook has hosted the event with Bink Michella of Dallas winning in 1993 and Mike Hopson of Lufkin edging WBCC member Andy Wall by a single shot in 2003. The West Tyler course has also hosted a state amateur in 1964 and several women's state amateurs.
"I played the course for the first time last week and really like it," Dallas amateur Lloyd Hughes said. "Each hole is memorable and that is always the sign of a good course."
The threesome of Palmer, Grace and Sonnier will have plenty of stiff competition in the group of 99 golfers in the Open division. Other name players surely to contend for the title are former state senior champions Kilby, former tour player Mike Peck of Irving and the ageless Mike Rice of Houston.
Rice is one of those rare golfers who seem to improve with age. A former linebacker for SMU in the 1960s, Rice won the state senior in 1995 and then won the USGA Senior Amateur at age 65 in 2005. Though eligible for the Super Senior, Rice has elected to compete in the Senior Division.
"He is still very long off the tee," Hughes said.
Competition in the Super Senior should be stout, as well. Hopson is the defending champion but Wall is chomping at the bit to win on his home course. Wall has reason to be optimistic with 15, count them, 15 WBCC club championships and just recently won the club's senior men's title with an impressive 67-71—138 total for 36 holes.
"It will be nice to play here at home," Wall said. "With all of the traveling I have done through the years to play in tournaments like this, it is good to sleep in my own bed."
His houseguest, Hopson will be out to win again but both players can expect some stout competition from former state amateur and mid-amateur champions Chip Stewart of Dallas and Bill Holstead of Wichita Falls. Stewart, along with long time Willow Brook member A.J. Triggs, goes into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame later in October while Holstead won the Super Senior at the West Texas Amateur earlier this summer at San Angelo Country Club.
And equally amazing as Rice, in the Super Senior, is the 82-year-old Don Addington of Dallas, a member of the state golf hall of fame and a six-time winner of the state senior. The former SMU golfer won his first senior title in 1986 at age 55 and his last in 1998 at age 67. He won the club championship at Dallas Country Club at age 77.
Rice is not the only former football player in the field as 2010 Super Senior winner Donny Anderson of Dallas will compete. Anderson was a great running back at Texas Tech before starring for the Green Bay Packers in their wins in the first two Super Bowls.
Willow Brook will be represented by four players — Wall and Jon Schreiber in the Super Senior and Steve Duffey and Richard Ellis in the Senior. Two outstanding senior amateurs from Houston, Tim Carlton and Rocquee Johnson, are former members of Willow Brook and thus familiar with the course. Carlton was the runner-up to Grace in the 2010 tournament in Odessa.
Other Tyler players entered are Jimmy Wheeler, Jerry Hudgins and Reggie Howell of Hollytree Country Club. All have won amateur events in the past with fields similar to the one that will play this week at Willow Brook.
Play begins Friday morning and there will be a 36-hole cut in both divisions before Sunday's final round of play.