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.''