By Cam Huffman
The team of volunteers that swarmed The Greenbrier’s Old White TPC course following the storms that ravaged much of the area, ready to help get things in order in time for The Greenbrier Classic, didn’t show up at Pipestem and Grandview this week.
But with the Beckley Newspapers Memorial Golf Classic set to kick off Saturday, tournament director David Hunter said Thursday everything is ready to go.
“I was at Pipestem Sunday, and they had some trees down, but they’ve all been cleaned up,” said Hunter. “Everything looks to be in good shape, and Grandview is in the same situation. They’re ready.”
Hunter said Pipestem had 35-40 trees down after the storm, and some of the greens on the Geoffrey Cornish-designed course suffered minor damage.
Grandview Country Club’s 6,748-yard course, he said, had some smaller trees down, but because the bigger trees are tucked away from the course, the damage was managable.
So with the courses ready, so are the more than 150 players that will compete in the 32nd annual event — which will divide the players into two groups, with one group playing Grandview on Saturday and the other playing Pipestem, and then the two swapping locations on Sunday. Monday’s final round will be played on The Resport at Glade Springs’ 7,121-yard Cobb Course.
“That’s one of the biggest draws of the tournament,” said Hunter of the three-course format. “Over the years, we’ve changed courses a few times, but we have a really good combination right now. That’s a big reason that a lot of golfers like it. I’m sure there are other tournaments in West Virginia that use more than one golf course, but it’s a pretty unique idea, and it’s good for Beckley.
“There are lots of people in town for this. We have an amazing number of people who come from as far away as Ohio and South Carolina. A lot of people just get together every year and make it a family event.”
When it comes to the field, Hunter said he’s seen the level of play improve every year, but the tournament isn’t limited to those who can fill their cards with birdies.
“We have golfers that will go out and shoot par or below par every round, and we have the golfers that come out and play in it knowing that they’re going to shoot in the 100s for their rounds,” said Hunter. “But they still come out and have a good time.
“It’s always wide open. That’s what makes it a great tournament. There are lots of golfers that have a chance to win it.”
This year’s BNI is more wide open than ever with Christian Brand, the winner of the last three tournament titles, absent after turnimg professional. Hunter pointed to Brandon Reece — a 2007 University of Charleston graduate, who won the tournament in 2006 and 2007 — as one of the players to watch, along a number of past and present Marshall University golfers.
But don’t expect the tournament to be a battle only of the 20-somethings.
“There are some guys that have a few years on them but in any give year could put together a few good rounds and win the golf tournament,” said Hunter. “Greg McGraw (a 53-year-old four-time winner) is always in it.”
With the Greenbrier Classic memories still fresh and the West Virginia Amateur — scheduled for July 30-Aug. 2 at The Greenbrier — just weeks away, Hunter said the excitement for this year’s BNI is palpable.
“I was concerned about having it the week after The Greenbrier Classic, but the excitement it created is still there,” he explained. “I’ve spoken to so many of the BNI golfers the last few days and asked if they went to The Greenbrier Classic, and the answer is always yes. So the timing this year is really good.”
First Community Bank is the main sponsor of the BNI, and the Lewis Automotive Group is sponsoring a hole-in-one contest at Glade Springs for a chance to win a new car.
There will be closest to the pin and longest drive contests. A half-and-half drawing will also be held, with half the proceeds going to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network.