Growing up in East Texas as a young and eager amateur golfer, Pat Wheeler was exposed to the glories of the Texas golf of his time.
Not simply the many fine courses or newspaper heroes, they are still here, from Hogan to Nelson, Crenshaw to Mahan.
No, what Wheeler got to see first-hand and learned from others was the great Texas barbecue amateur circuit, where Lone Star golf heroes made memories and millions as part of the gambling, golfing good times in the 1950s and ’60s.
Now a golf writer living in Dallas with a weekly radio talk show, Wheeler has recreated those times and players faithfully in his recently released book, (ital) When Golf Was Fun: Tales from the Late, Great Beer and BBQ Circuit,(end ital) from Keller’s Austin Brothers publishing.
Texas golf legends such as Don January, Charles Coody, Miller Barber and Ben Crenshaw all got their starts here, along with names only the hardest of hard-core Lone Star golf fans would remember: “Mr. 55” Homeo Blancas; Don Cherry, the singing golfer; Dick Martin, the millionaire bookmaker, and; Abilene’s amateur legend Billy Maxwell.
Each of the 40 brief chapters start with a quote from a famous Texas BBQ Circuit golfer or participant and is broken into three sections of the state: East, West and South, which hosted the tournaments and boosted the betting Calcutta, usually the financial highlight of the event.
This is a history of Texas golf essentially from the late 1940s through the 1970s. It takes readers back to their youthful days in a much simpler world, Wheeler said.
“I like the personalities of golfers,” he said. “The game is so difficult that it either attracts or develops colorful personalities. The book paints with broad strokes and lets the reader in many cases provide the back story. A lot of people who buy the book are either mentioned or were present at these tournaments.”
Among the many colorful (and true) stories in the 200-page book are that of Blancas’ 55 in Longview during an East Texas BBQ event, still an all-time record. There are Cherry’s adventures as a lounge singer and all-time golf stakes player from Wichita Falls, and Martin’s regular money matches at fabled Tenison Park in Dallas that were chronicled in a national story titled, “Where Pros Go Home C.O.D.”
All the glories of the summertime Odessa Pro-Am are detailed, as is the Masters Calcutta, which was held at the stately Bon Aire Hotel in Augusta, Ga.
All from a now-largely forgotten era for most Texas golfers, but a very interesting read about Lone State golf glory.
Former PGA Tour player Stuart Deane, now a PGA teaching professional at Sinclair’s Golf Training Center in Euless, bested Dean Larsson, PGA assistant professional at Bent Tree Country Club, and Perry Arthur, PGA head professional at The Golf Club of Dallas, in a sudden-death playoff to win the Northern Texas PGA Professional Championship.
Deane posted a two-round total of 4-under-par 140 to win his first Northern Texas PGA Professional Championship and second individual major championship. Deane’s second round included three birdies and just one bogey for 2-under 70. Deane also won the Callaway Golf Western Championship two months earlier, taking home a $2,600 check. He also qualified for the national 2013 PGA Club Pro Championship in California.
Troy Denton, PGA assistant professional at Stevens Park Golf Course, and Greg Sikes, PGA head professional at Hogan Park Golf Course, finished tied for fourth at 2-under 142.
Max Miller’s 2-under 70 propelled the College Station golfer to victory at the fourth annual George Hannon Junior Invitational, the final large-scale Texas junior tournament of the year. It was his first career victory in the Boys 15-18 division.
Harrison Mahon of Plano won the Boys 14-and-under division with a two-day total of 150. Austin’s Julia Beck captured the Girls 12-18 division with a par on the third playoff hole.
Conducted by the Legends Junior Tour, the tournament is named for the former longtime University of Texas coach and features 80 of the top players from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Canada. In addition to being ranked by Junior Golf Scoreboard and (ital) Golfweek, (end ital) the event also awarded numerous AJGA Performance Stars to the top finishers.
Dallas’ Andrew Lawson shot a 4-under 68 at the Lakes at Castle Hills to earn medalist honors for the 2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur regional qualifying. He was the only one to break par at the Jay Morrish-designed championship course, which recently hosted the Texas State Open.
Chris Wheeler from Carrollton was one of six other qualifiers with a solo second place 73. Allen’s Justin Fraley and Mike Douthit from Arlington tied for third at 74.
Julie Harrison, from Baton Rouge, La., conquered the tough Gleneagles Country Club layout in Plano to earn medalist honors for regional qualifying at the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur.
She shot 74 to became one of eight women to qualify for the USGA National Championship this fall. Stafford’s Lecia Alexander was second at 75.