COVID-19 derails but doesn’t stop Champion of Champions tourney
Twenty Valley’s Payton Bennett will defend her junior girls title Sept. 26 at the 71st Walt McCollum Niagara District Champion of Champions golf tournament being played at the Port Colborne Golf and Country Club.
This was the year the Walt McCollum Niagara District Champion of Champions golf tournament made a return to its glory days.
Bolstered by a new committee, made up of Niagara-on-the-Lake pro Billy Simkin, St. Catharines Golf and Country Club pro Cam Thin, Beechwood pro John White, Port Colborne Golf and Country Club general manager Tom Vanderlip and Carrie Julie, Golf Ontario’s regional director for Niagara, the 2020 tournament was scheduled to be held at the St. Catharines Golf And Country Club.
In addition to the 71st annual tournament, the committee had planned a number of other events.
“We were going to make it the marquee golf event in Niagara,” Julie said. “It was going to be called The Celebration of Golf in Niagara and we had hoped to bring it back to the way I used to remember it as a kid.
“When it was at Beechwood years ago, I was the esteemed door opener at the event.”
Plans called for a season-ending tournament for the Niagara PGA Golf Tour that would feature the top 12 pros playing at the same time as the Champions tournament and a gala dinner and evening to go with the tournament.
“We expected hundreds of people to attend the gala,” she said.
Television coverage of the tournament had been arranged as well as live on-line scoring for those following the tournament at home.
There were even plans to get the spectators involved.
“Each club was going to pick a different colour and they would have supporters from their club attend,” Julie said. “We had fights between Beechwood and Sawmill over who was going to be blue.”
Unfortunately everyone was feeling blue when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and those plans were dashed. The committee was left scrambling with courses all busy and tee times hard to come by.
“This committee is so committed and there was no way we weren’t going to run it.”
The St. Catharines Golf and Country Club still isn’t allowing guests which ruled out that course, but luckily the ownership group at the Port Colborne Golf and Country Club stepped in and offered its track.
“They have given us Saturday, Sept. 26 and tee times are starting at 10 a.m.,” Julie said. “We are going off of one tee at 10-minute intervals.”
Players are asked to arrive 30 minutes before their tee times, there will be hand sanitizing at registration, there will be Port Colborne members at each green to man the pins and presentations for each division will be made as each group comes in.
“This will be the first time players putt into a cup pre-COVID style.”
All food and beverages will be served outside.
“People are welcome to stick around afterwards but that is our way of managing crowds,” she said.
Participants in the tournament will be send packages including the rules and what to expect upon arrival.
Golfers from 18 of the 20 clubs who participated last year are competing in the tournament. The two courses that aren’t back are because they didn’t hold club championships in 2020.
The field includes: 17 in the women’s division, including defending champion Alex Taylor from Lookout Point; 17 in the men’s division, including defending champion Matt Graham from Port Colborne, 16 in the senior men’s division, including defending champion Bernie Bodogh from the St. Catharines Golf and Country Club, who is an alternate for Pat Mowat; 16 in the senior ladies division, possibly including defending champion Sandra Billyard if she can win her club championship at Port Colborne; 14 in the juniors boys division; and, four in the junior girls division, including defending champion Payton Bennett from Twenty Valley.
There is no rain day for the tournament.
“We are going rain or shine on Saturday, Sept. 26 and hopefully Mother Nature is with us. It is going to happen,” Julie said.
The committee is hoping COVID-19 is a thing of the past by 2021 and The Celebration of Golf in Niagara can be held at the St. Catharines Golf and Country Club.
“We are going to throw the event we wanted to throw this year and top off golf in 2021 in the fashion it should have.”