Minnesota Golfer - Summer 2010 - 42
As Time Goes By
When the Big Three-The Birchmont, The Resorters and The
Pine to Palm-were the kings of Minnesota tournament golf.
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lways around this time-late
July and early August-the
thoughts of an old golfer and
old golf writer turn to the Big Three.
No, not Palmer, Nicklaus and Player.
This is The Birchmont, The Resorters
and The Pine to Palm.
Those are the three major amateur
week-long tournaments held in Bemidji,
Alexandria and Detroit Lakes, respectively,
each summer. They were started in the 1920s and '30s to attract
vacationers/golfers to the lakes area in northern Minnesota.
For nearly a century, those tournaments have done that.
But for those who can remember the " good old days, " the Big
Three these days don't seem to have quite the same pizzazz as they
did in the old days. Back then, they seemed to generate golfers and
deeds of mythic proportion.
The Big Three attracted most of the best amateurs in the
state-including Harry Legg, Neil Croonquist and Pat Sawyer.
The tournaments also attracted top amateurs from outside the
state-George Lee of Humbolt, Iowa, Harold Erickson from Illinois
and Jack Rule of Waterloo, Iowa, who won three straight
Pine to Palms between 1958 and 1960. A majority of the young
players in Minnesota went to the Big Three to test their games:
George Boutell, Les Peterson, Dick Blooston, John Harris, Chris
Perry, Paul Sanderson and Tom Lehman.
The Big Three also had Calcuttas-auctions held the night before
the tournament started, in which each player in the fi eld is
bid on. All the money goes in a pool (back then, it might have
been $25,000 to $40,000) that is paid out by percentage for each
victory. The bidder who picked the winning golfer got 40 percent
of the pot-and usually gave the champion player 10 percent of
Calcuttas are not legal without a federal permit and payment of
a tax. Paying amateurs isn't legal either. Just ask the USGA and the
NCAA. The Resorters now obtains the necessary permit to hold
its Calcutta, but the " fun " in the good old days was heading off to
a " secret " location for the auction.
There were also the characters around a Calcutta. Martin " Stan "
Stanovich-a golfer built like Kirby Puckett-came from Chicago
to try to buy himself in the Calcutta. Kenny Pinns-the only golfer
to win all three events in one summer-came from Las Vegas
with the reputation of a golf hustler.
The Big Three still carry enough prestige that the MGA awards
Player Points to golfers who perform well in them. But not as
many players from the Twin Cities take part now, and the young
guns often go elsewhere.
" We don't get the depth of fi eld we used to, " says Rick Grand,
a former player for the Gophers who is now the pro at Bemidji
Town & CC. " Now a lot of the younger players are going to the
Western Amateur or the U.S. Publinks or the U.S. Amateur. "
Steve Waller, a former president of Alexandria GC, added,
" There aren't as many resorts as we used to have, so that cuts
down on the number of people who play. Plus, there are just a lot
more things people do with their time now. A week-long tournament
doesn't do much for them. "
Even weekend " shortstop " tournaments have mostly disappeared.
Shortstops-one-day events in match or medal play-
were once played from Albert Lea to International Falls, from
Montevideo on Labor Day weekend to River Falls, Wis., on the
Fourth of July.
One such shortstop was the Cokato Invitational back in the
1960s. Tom Swanson, a college friend of the old golf writer, had
somehow managed to win the event in 1967 and returned to
defend his championship in 1968. After the Saturday qualifying
round, many of the players gathered in the clubhouse for refreshments,
and Swanson discovered that more players were needed.
So Swanson put in a call-a person-to-person collect call-to
the old golf writer vacationing in Las Vegas. The clubhouse grew
quiet as Swanson announced that another player would be joining
the fi eld. The bleary-eyed golf writer arrived at the fi rst tee, and
a small gallery gathered to see the player " who just fl ew in from
Las Vegas. "
The old golf writer tied his golf shoes, took a practice swing and
unleashed a solid drive down the middle of the fairway. Murmurs
of " . . . fl ew in from Vegas " could still be heard as he walked down
the fairway. Never mind that he didn't hit another good shot, nor
even broke 90. He had hit the only shot that really mattered.
Sort of like Bogie and Bergman in Casablanca, he will always
have Cokato. He also will always have The Big Three.
MINNESOTAGOLFER Summer 2010
Minnesota Golfer - Summer 2010
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Minnesota Golfer - Summer 2010
Minnesota Golfer - Summer 2010 - Cover1
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Minnesota Golfer - Summer 2010 - 3
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Minnesota Golfer - Summer 2010 - Cover3
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