The annual Circle of Friends tournament just keeps getting bigger and better. More than 36 brothers turned out for this year’s event at Ruffled Feathers golf club in the Chicago suburbs Sept. 5-7. They came from Wisconsin, Texas, Georgia, even Istanbul, Turkey! It all got started on Friday, September 5 with a team competition supporting the Teen Living Programs, a non-profit serving Chicago’s homeless urban kids. Fourteen Circle of Friends players joined about 50 others in the Friday event. Overall, $2,500 was generated for TLP! By the end of Friday, Team Hutton (Thomas Hutton, Reggie Ware, Shaun Butler, Joel Bowen) and Team Dexter (Thomas Harvey, Pete Long and Billy Dexter) tied, each carding 8-under 64s. The tie was ultimately settled on Sunday (more on that later).

Saturday morning’s 2008 individual stroke play championship started at 9:30 a.m. on a rain-soaked course, but thankfully, under sunny skies. With the entire Circle watching, last year’s A-flight champion, Wallace Harris, kick-started the competition from the green tees of Ruffled’s 348 yard first hole. Harris and T Harvey paired together in the first foursome battled neck and neck throughout the round. Each missed several short putts that could easily have helped distance them from the field. By the end of Round 1, Harvey’s 86 gave him a 1-stroke lead over Harris’ 87. But perennial A-flight force, Thomas “T Hutt” Hutton, snuck into the lead with a quiet 85. (More on T Hutt later.) Lurking in the shadows were Isaac “Ike Turner” Carter (89) and newcomer Gerald “GB” Beechum (91).

The B Flight competition was led by Lerone Sidberry, who caught fire and carded a sizzling 89 on Day 1. Not far behind were Phoenix Open B-Flight champ Reggie Dunlop (93), Bob Baker (94), Reggie Ware (96), and newcomer Larry Kirkwood. Meanwhile, the C Flight battle was being waged among the Racine, Wisconsin boys: Pete Long and his buddies Ronnie Payne and Frank Smith.

Veterans who have played Ruffled enough know the course has a way of biting golfers who don’t keep it in the short grass. Sunday was no different. In the A Flight, leader “T Hutt” had to withdraw to catch a plane. And several guys in his wake couldn’t play consistently enough to post sub-90 scores—a necessity to stay in the hunt. The B Flight leaders, Sidberry and Dunlop, also faded with scores of 104 and 102 respectively.

But Gerald (call him “GB”) Beechum, made a Sunday charge in the A Flight that would make Tiger proud. He posted an impressive 83 (the low round of the tournament). But it wasn’t quite enough to catch Wallace “Money” Harris, whose 86 gave him the A Flight title with a tourney total of 173, a stroke better than Beechum’s 174. In a heated contest for third place, Isaac Carter claimed the hardware after edging past Harvey via a score-card tie-breaker. Both players had totals of 175, but Carter performed better on the toughest handicap hole as well as hole 18.

The B Flight was nearly as tight. Although no one could catch Bob “Steady Eddy” Baker, whose solid 90 on Sunday gave him an insurmountable tourney total of 184. Larry Kirkwood tried to catch Baker, but his 92 on day 2 left him two shots short (186) and he walked away with second place hardware. Reggie Ware rebounded with a 92 to capture the third place trophy. The C Flight was a weekend-long war between Long and his friends Ronnie Payne and Frank Smith. In the end, Smith (201) overcame Payne (202) while Long (212) took home the bronze.

Give it up to Pete Long. This guy embodies what the Circle of Friends is all about: sharing good times with good friends and giving back a little of your riches. Pete, a Quaker Oats employee, contributed Quaker snacks and Gatorade (a Quaker-owned product) to the tournament. And even more importantly, he brought his friends Payne and Smith into the Circle! That’s why Long earned the prize for exhibiting the spirit of the Circle. Thanks Pete!

Other honorees included big Darrell James for his booming drive down hole No. 4 on the first day. The other Day 1 long drive was a solid poke by Thomas Harvey on No. 18. Uduak Udofia edged Gerald Beechum with a shot that nabbed closest to the pin on No. 8, while Reggie Ware won “CTP” honors on the dangerous island green at No. 11. Lerone Sidberry added an exclamation to his stellar Saturday with the longest putt made on No. 17. On Day 2 Brian Jones’ huge drive was the longest on No. 4. Nobody could reach the green at No. 8 to win closest to the pin (it was set up as a nearly impossible 225-yard par 3). But it was Isaac Carter who dominated the prizes on Sunday. At No. 11 he was closest to the pin. At No. 17 he made the longest putt. And on No. 18 the brother known simply as “Dark Man” smashed the longest drive. He needed a U-Haul to take home all of his hardware!

Despite all those heroics, it was a putt made before the competition even started Sunday that will be talked about for years to come. In a chip-and-putt-off to decide Friday’s tie in team competition, Thomas “T Hutt” Hutton and Thomas “Pretty Ricky” Harvey squared off. Hutton went first, misgauging a chip that came up about 25-feet short of the pin. Harvey went to school and pitched his ball to within 10 feet. It looked like the competition was over, but no. Hutton coolly stepped up, surveyed his putt, and proceeded to drain the 25-footer, sending onlookers into a frenzy not seen since Justin Leonard drained that miracle putt in the 1999 Ryder Cup. Harvey couldn’t follow that mastery, sailing his 10-footer past the left edge of the hole. “T Hutt” now proudly goes by the nickname “Clutch Putt”.

He’s not the only one that can lay claim to clutch performances. The most coveted prize of the weekend was awarded Sunday afternoon. The Circle of Friends Championship marks both the beginning and the end of the season-long Circle of Friends Series. It began last year with the COF Championship, followed by the Crockett Classic in California, the D.R. Invitational in the Dominican Republic, the Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Arizona last Spring, and culminated at his year’s COF tourney. Going into the competition at Ruffled, Reggie Dunlop (with 1300 points) was leading several guys with 1100 points, including Wallace Harris. But Harris’s victory at Ruffled gave him a total of 2,200 points and the right to take home the massive silver COF Cup. Congratulations to Harris!

For those wishing to wrest the Cup away from him, be sure to sign up for the California Crockett Classic. This tourney will take place in just one month in sunny San Jose, CA. It starts Thursday, October 16 with a team scramble at the exclusive Silver Creek Valley Country Club. On Friday, October 17 we’ll play a practice round and then over the weekend (October 18 & 19) we’ll tee it up for the individual stroke play trophies, and points toward the Cup, at The Bridges Golf Club For details and to register check out www.circleoffriendsgolf.org.

Your tournament hosts,

Billy Dexter & Roger Crockett

Until Next Year!

Roger “Roc-It” Crockett, Co-Commissioner