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Archive for Tuesday, July 28, 1992

AT ALVAMAR

July 28, 1992

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It's easy to take the Kansas Open for granted.

After all, the state's open golf tournament is a fixture at Alvamar late each July.

But it didn't happen by accident. And if not for the efforts of a few dedicated individuals, it might not have happened at all. Or at least it might have faded after a few years.

The tournament was initiated in 1976 by the Kansas Golf Assn.

``The (KGA) board members felt it was a tournament that needed to be on the schedule,'' said Alvamar senior vice president Jerry Waugh, the tournament director. ``It never had been done.''

Developer Bob Billings agreed to allow Alvamar to host the first tournament, and it's been there ever since.

``There wasn't a state open held in Kansas,'' Billings recalled, ``and we felt it was very important to get on the bandwagon and have a state open. We didn't know where it might lead.''

IT'S LED A long way from a total purse of $20,000 and a first-place prize of $2,000 in 1976, to a $55,000 purse and $10,000 for the winner this year.

Since 1987, Cottonwood, Inc. has been the coordinator and financial beneficiary of the tournament.

``Over the last several years,'' Waugh reported, ``they've been able to raise $50,000.''

Cottonwood, Inc., is a Lawrence-based non-profit organization which provides comprehensive services to 157 persons who have developmental disabilities. It also provides support services to another 193 persons.

``To the credit of Cottonwood,'' Waugh said, ``they have planned to reach a point where they want to pay Alvamar, and this year, they'll pay $5,000 for use of the golf course.''

BUT ATTAINING success for the Kansas Open wasn't easy.

``The Kansas Golf Assn. found out real quick that running one of these tournaments was fine,'' Waugh said, ``but raising money was not so fine.

``In order to keep it going, Bob Billings entered the picture to keep it alive. For several years, he raised the money. He just did it himself.''

The Villages, a Topeka-based organization, became the beneficiary in 1978, until Cottonwood took over the role.

Waugh said the tournament might not have made it out of infancy if not for Billings.

``It would have died a long time ago,'' Waugh said. ``The tournament as a benefit continued to struggle from a lack of an active group or organization.''

ADDED BILLINGS, ``We wondered if the effort was worth the results we were getting. I don't know if there was ever any discussion of dropping the tournament. Now we think it's just part of the fixture of Lawrence and golf in Kansas. It has become a center of pride for Alvamar and the golfing community.''

Waugh said that Cottonwood's involvement has been a boon for the tournament.

``It really turned the Open around in my opinion,'' he said.

Cottonwood has been an effective fund raiser, Waugh said. And the tournament has an entry fee of $325 for professionals and $125 for amateurs.

``The tournament has really gained the backing of the community,'' Waugh said.

THIS YEAR, 156 players, including 30 amateurs, will compete in the tournament, which runs Wednesday through Friday.

``I think it's a credit to the community of Lawrence,'' said Brett Marshall, executive director of the Kansas Golf Assn. ``It's a tremendous event for Cottonwood.

``I think the quality of the tournament has gotten better every year,'' Marshall added. ``It seems like the depth of the quality has improved.''

Originally held in September, the Kansas Open has become a staple in late July.

``We thought of changing the dates of the tournament,'' Waugh said. ``The superintendent feels he can provide a better golf course in June.''

But Waugh said it was important to keep consistency in scheduling.

``The golfers can make their schedules every year knowing it's going to be the last week in July,'' he said.

``WITH THE way some of the state opens fall into play,'' Billings said, ``it seems to be in kind of a niche.''

The tournament has been won twice by native Kansans Bryan Norton of Salina in 1984 and Steve Gotsche of Great Bend in 1990. John Lyons, a former Kansas University golfer, won in 1982.

Gary McCord, now a television golf commentator, decided to enter the 1979 tournament at the last minute and won with a then-record 206 total. And Stan Utley, a former Missouri player, set the scoring record that still stands 11-under-par 205 while winning the 1986 event.

Larry Webb is the only two-time champion. He won in 1980 and '81 after consecutive second-place finishes. He's probably best remembered for diving in the 18th-hole pond to celebrate his '81 victory.

``You look at the list of players,'' the KGA's Marshall said, ``we've had a lot of good players win the tournament.''

FOR MARSHALL, Norton's victory in '84 was particularly memorable.

``It was a thrill for me to see a Kansas player win it,'' Marshall said.

In the final round, Marshall remembered, ``He had a shot he had to maneuver around the trees on the 14th hole. He hit a 5-iron, 175 yards through a small opening in some trees to four feet from the hole, and he made it for birdie.''

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