The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

The BNI

August 8, 2010

BNI is a summer highlight

GRANDVIEW — People keep coming back to the BNI Memorial golf tournament.

Now in its 30th season, it’s as popular as ever. Apparently, once you play in the BNI, you’re hooked.

“It’s more than a golf tournament. It’s everything,” Alan Wharton said.

He should know. Alan and his brothers Robert and Gary, all Summersville natives, have been playing in the event for “22 or 24 years.”

While Gary still lives in Summersville, Alan and Robert drive in each year from Columbus. In fact, Alan, the 2008 champion, used to make the trip from Atlanta.

“Great golf courses and a great tournament,” he said. “And we make it more of a family reunion. We have a lot of fun every night.”

So much fun, the Whartons said the police showed up Saturday night to see what was going on.

“We had a fireworks party,” Alan explained with a grin.

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While the Whartons have a smooth trip southward on four-lane roads, three other golfers are braving winding mountain roads to come up from Welch.

Former Big Creek High School coach Mike Vallo, now assistant football coach and head baseball coach at the new River View High School in Bradshaw, is a longtime fixture at the BNI.

Vallo plays with former middle school principal and coach Joe Sparks and his son Chris Sparks, a former Bluefield State golfer now living in Myrtle Beach.

“You’ve got good competition and good courses,” Vallo said. “I don’t get to play golf a lot, but it’s nice to come out and play. It’s a challenge to see how you do, and I’ve met so many nice folks in the tournament.”

Joe Sparks likes that the BNI is “so well-run,” and both father and son enjoy the camaraderie with their friend.

“Vallo will ride me if I start hitting bad shots,” Chris said. “If I do something stupid, my dad will get on me.”

But shouldn’t it be Chris who gives out all the grief? After all, he was tied for second after the first day of the BNI and is currently 3-over par.

“It’s a fun tournament,” he said, diplomatically. “I try to stay out of that. I just kind of go my own way.”

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Besides Chris Sparks, the BNI features other talented young golfers, such as defending champion Christian Brand, Bosten Miller and Brandon Reece.

No doubt there are other places they could have played this weekend, but the Young Guns love the BNI.

“I had heard about the BNI and how it’s a good tournament from word of mouth,” said Brand, the defending champion and current tournament leader. “Last year I saw how it was run, and I’ll probably be back every year.”

Miller, like Brand a Charleston native and current Marshall University golfer, echoed Alan Wharton and Chris Sparks.

“It’s just a fun tournament,” he said. “My buddy has a house at Glade and we come up and spend three nights.”

Reece, a two-time champion, came up from Raleigh, N.C., to play in the BNI.

“I played here growing up,” he said. “I’m originally from Beckley, and I come home every three or four months.”

Where else would he be, but at the BNI?

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