ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — For six decades, the Skyview Golf Association has conducted Buncombe County’s largest stroke-play golf tournament.
And as the Skyview Pro & Amateur Tournament celebrates its 60th straight year of hosting players for competition, it will represent much more than golfers teeing it up for three days.
The event at Asheville Golf Course on July 9-11 is also an important community event that embraces diversity among its playing field and a large, extended golfing family.
“We’re very proud that we have been able to put on this tournament for so long. It has always been an important sporting and social event for our community,” said Skyview tournament director Lee Shepard.
In its heyday, the tournament drew fields of more than 200 players and featured winners like Lee Elder, who won the event a record four straight years (1962-65) and went on to become the first African-American golfer to compete in The Masters.
Local winners also include a list of the top players in WNC over the years, like Richard Clark and Harry Jeter.
The Skyview tourney was created in 1960 and was initially designed as an African-American only event at what was then named the Asheville Municipal GC (Muni), one of the few 18-hole layouts that allowed blacks access to the game.
But it took just one year for organizers to realize that excluding a race of golfers was the very obstacle they were trying to overcome, and every since the tournament has enjoyed the fact that all players - male, female and juniors - are welcome.
“You see blacks and whites playing together, just like you want and just like you see every day at the Muni,” said Billy Gardenhight, who helped create the tournament and served as its director for more than 40 years.
“At the Skyview, it’s just about the golf and the friends and reconnecting with people you only see maybe once a year.”
Last year’s event was one of the most exciting ever, a classic duel in the pro division between youth and experience.
Greg Parker, head golf pro at Marion Lake Club, finished at 20-under par to win his record seventh Skyview title at age 52.
Parker had 23 birdies in three days to hold off Noah Ratner of Asheville, the winner in 2015 and ‘16 who had 22 birdies over 54 holes and finished two shots back of Parker.
Playing out of the same cart in the second and third rounds, Parker and Ratner combined for 34 birdies over 36 holes.
Henderson County's Austin Fisher is the defending champion in the amateur division, and Tommy White of Asheville will defend his crown as the senior amateur winner.
The event is 54 holes of stroke play on the popular 18-hole Donald Ross layout at AGC that hosts more than 40,000 rounds annually.
Even with record rainfall over the past 18 months, the par-72 renowned for its two distinct nines - a flat, wide-open front side that gives way to a short, tight nine holes that demands accuracy and features tree-lined fairways on every hole - is in good playing shape.
The Skyview is unique in that there are four divisions - pro, senior pro, amateur and senior amateur.
The pros and senior pros will play for a purse that totals $17,900.
Amateurs and senior amateurs will be flighted and will play for prizes that include woods, irons and golf bags.
The amateurs tee off at 8 a.m. each morning and pros begin play at 2 p.m.
Entry fees are $185 for amateurs and $350 for pros, with the field limited to the first 60 pros and 90 amateurs who have paid entries.
The Skyiew Golf Association is a 501 -c- (4) non-profit that provides scholarships and donates to elderly and youth services.
For more information or to enter the tournament, call Shepard (335-6377), Gardenheight (231-0860), Ivory Walker (774-5534) or Fred Woods (423-8485).
Sponsorships are also available, including tee signs.
- by Keith Jarrett