WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Could Jr. Golf tourney be near its end?

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Nate O’Neal sizes up a putt during the first round of the Larry Pittman Memorial/Wilson County Junior Golf Championship at Wilson Country Club on July 22, 2019. The tournament will switch from a three-day affair after 41 years to a two-day format for this year’s tournament, set for July 13-14. Tom Ham | Times
Nate O’Neal sizes up a putt during the first round of the Larry Pittman Memorial/Wilson County Junior Golf Championship at Wilson Country Club on July 22, 2019. The tournament will switch from a three-day affair after 41 years to a two-day format for this year’s tournament, set for July 13-14. Tom Ham | Times
Posted

The beginning of the end.

Maybe Wilson County’s junior golfers can defy the blunt forecast. Only they can.

After 41 eventful years, suspicions are surfacing the Larry Pittman Memorial/Wilson County Junior Golf Championship, once the envy of Eastern North Carolina if not beyond, has about run its course.

Participation — or lack of it — continues to be a sad concern. The girls division has shown slight growth but the absence of high school golfers is a glaring disappointment.

For many, their only association with the game of golf is the week of the tournament. They then find play in tournament conditions somewhat bewildering. The overall quality of play is down noticeably.

According to the original intent, the job belonged to the juniors to raise funds, organize the tournament and promote participation for boys and girls ages 18 and under and residing in Wilson County. For the last few years, adults have not only been responsible for recruiting competitors but spend too much time pleading with youngsters to play.

The turnout has hovered around 50 the last several years. In the glory years, nearly triple that number stepped onto the No. 1  tee.

The complaints and excuses now threaten to rival the excitement and appreciation for the unique venture of the Wilson County Junior Golf Association.

SIGNATURE APPEAL

Then came the recent decision of the committee that the best recourse for saving or reviving the tournament is to abolish its signature appeal — playing three days on three different courses.

The 42nd annual Pittman Memorial is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, July 13-14, and, for the first time, it will be contested just two days instead of three, and the golfers will play only two rounds — not three. The venues will be Willow Springs Country Club on Monday and Wedgewood Public Golf Course. The awards banquet is planned for Tuesday night at Wedgewood.

Maybe the coronavirus will be history by then.

WCJGA officials have heard too often that three days are too many and the weather is too hot. Of course, the “golf-course rats” look forward to grinding for three days on three different courses in the heat.

Times change and necessitate changes. Let’s hope one day less is the boost the Pittman Memorial needs. But it will lose its unique flair that, for so long, deemed it special — no, more than special.

STARTED IN 1979

Perhaps the proud endeavor of the WCJGA was never the greatest junior tournament staged in North Carolina. But back in 1979, the inaugural year, how many junior golf events consisted of three rounds on three different courses? The Pittman Memorial was also dynamic because it belonged exclusively to Wilson County.

Only youngers who resided in the county battled for county bragging rights.

Consider what the foursome of Larry Pittman, Charlie Clement, Jack Kennedy and Larry Holcomb (all now deceased) sat down and created in the Willow Springs locker room following a round of golf in the summer of 1978.

Wilson’s junior golf movement was actually started by the late Les Garnett with the Wilson Auto Dealers tourney.

The Pittman-led group expanded, expounded and refined.

FINISHED PRODUCT

Here’s just a sample of the finished product:

Three rounds of golf for predetermined age groups on four courses — Wedgewood, Willow Springs, Wilson County Club and Happy Valley Country Club (which ceased operation in 2018). One course on a rotating basis was not included as a tournament site each year.

The youngsters were presented gift bags and reported to a starter before getting ready for his or her designated tee time. Water and Gatorade were always available on the golf course each day. For years, the juniors had a chance to grab a lunch sandwich.

Scorers were provided for younger age groups and numerous marshals were stationed on the courses to monitor and assist play.

At the end of the day, each youngster’s performance (stroke-for-stroke) was charted on a huge scoreboard.

The awards banquet following the final round featured a surplus of trophies, a meal of which family members could be present, a door prize for all via a drawing and the presentation of trophies to the top three finishers in each age group. Celebrities, from the golf profession and other walks of like, served as featured speakers.

GENEROUSLY SUPPORTED

Youngsters were — and still are — treated royally. The tournament has never experienced a shortage of sponsors or finances. The Pittman Memorial has been generously supported.

Somewhat distressing to learn was that a representative of at least one club endorsed the decision to shift from three days to two.

Frequently preached is the importance of promoting junior golf. After all, they are the game’s future. Clubs are only being asked to host a round of the county championship just one summer day every year.

What’s of utmost importance is to establish whether two days is the way to go or return to the signature three rounds at three courses.

Conflicts are many. Junior tournaments are everywhere. The older juniors have summer jobs. Regardless of the age, they all have priorities — soccer, whatever. Golf may well not be at the top of the list. Swinging a golf club may not be as much fun as anticipated. It can be unmerciful work.

Regardless of the future, more than four decades of the Pittman Memorial have accomplished admirable intent. The tourney is the reason youngsters were introduced to and became hooked on golf, it developed skill levels, it influenced careers, it built friendships, it provided fun times and created countless memories.

Just ask former participants Jay Pittman, Rocky Brooks, Davis Lane, Shawn Owens, John-Tyler Griffin, Chris McKeel, Justin Hayes, Michael Dunn, Robert Green, Stephen Satterly, Bryson Boyette, Ethan Boyette, Jake Herring (in his younger years), Brian Joyce, Kent Williams, John Williams, Gene Williams, Stephen Harrison, Brad Hondros, Michael Kennedy, Claud Allegood, Stephen Abrams, Richie Hunt, Zachary Martin, Joshua Martin, Will Pope, Paul Howell, Zach Gliarmis, Coalter Paxton IV, Spencer Whitt, Robert Yarborough, Ryan Yarborough, Matthew Ellis, Mark Whitley, Warren Matthews, Candler Matthews, Brian Outland, John Clayton, Harry Tyson, Joey Exum, Richie Fulghum, Ken Maddox, Clay Willis, Brad Sutton, Ken Bass, Will Farris, Richie Creech, Ty Barnes, Scott deKeyser, Jonathan Woodall, Mitch Hayes and Matthew Sullivan.

GIRLS STANDOUTS

Among the girls: Linda Harrison, Courtney Jones, Amanda Bailey, Robbie Cooke, Shana Cooke, Ana Cooke, Jennifer Boykin, Stephanie Otteson, Amy Otteson, Mallory Warrick, Kayla Ricks, Sarah Bunn, Eleanor Tucker, Nealy Alexander, Amber Godwin, Harper Pridgen, Diana Whitling and so, so many more what it meant to them. Pittman, Brooks, Lane and Owens all became club professionals.

If Wilson County’s junior golf championship thrives as a two-day event, so be it. The request is don’t compromise it until it becomes just another outing.

If the appeal has been exhausted, acknowledge that the Larry Pittman Memorial/Wilson County Junior Golf Championship served a wonderful purpose and deserves a dignified exit.

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