Johnson City Country Club is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and the eighth annual Tillinghast Invitational golf tournament will be a big part of the celebration.
The 36-hole tournament will be played June 1-2, and some special guests will be on hand.
Former East Tennessee State players Skeeter Heath, Allan Strange and John McNeeley will be joined by local bank president and longtime golf enthusiast and benefactor Bill Greene in an honorary foursome during the tournament’s first round. One of the players, presumably Strange, might actually compete in the tournament.
Strange, the twin brother of two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, played at ETSU from 1973-76. Heath was a two-time All-American at ETSU (1975-76). McNeeley, a former co-owner of Diamond Creek, joined Strange and Heath on the 1976 Ohio Valley Conference champion team.
All four spent a lot of time honing their games at Johnson City Country Club. They will also be honored at a cocktail reception the night before the tournament.
“Each one of these individuals has played a role in creating history, not just at Johnson City Country Club, but throughout the Southeast region,” tournament chairman Jim Richardson said Tuesday during a news conference announcing this year’s Tillinghast Invitational. “They’ve all had an impact in some way, shape or form. To have them to come grace us with their presence at our event is an honor.That’s sure to be interesting to hear some of their stories from the times they were around these parts. We’re very excited about that.”
The club has been celebrating its centennial all year and Tony Ferro, the chairman of the club’s centennial committee says big things are planned.
“We’ve had some real successful events,” Ferro said. “The purpose of what we’re trying to do here is not only to celebrate our 100th anniversary, but it’s an opportunity to give back to the community. If you read the history of the country club, you also read the history of Johnson City because they grew together. So a lot of our events are offered to the general public.”
The Tillinghast Invitational will be one of the more visible components of the centennial. Last year, the tournament drew a field of 118 players, its largest ever. A full field would be 128.
“We’re expecting a great field,” said Mike Crowe, the club’s longtime head professional. “We’ve had a lot of interest so far. I think we’ll have a lot of new faces this year.
“If everything goes well and we get the word out, we hope to get a full field. We’ve had a steady increase every year. I think we’ll get to that point.”
Defending champion Mark Baggarly will be back in the field, as will three-time champ Chip Spratlin and defending senior champion Tim Dinwiddie. Baggarly shot 136 last year, eight under par, to tie Spratlin’s tournament scoring record set in 2010.
“I think the course becomes more of a challenge each and every year,” Crowe said. “I’m always sort of surprised that the scores aren’t maybe a little bit lower. But you put that word ‘tournament’ by their name, you toughen up the pins a little bit and grow the rough up a little bit, and it becomes a different place around here.”
The entry fee of $135 gets players golf and lunch each day. In addition, as has become tradition, the club will open all of its facilities to the families of tournament participants during the entire weekend of the Tillinghast.
“We don’t want to look at them as guests,” Richardson said. “They’re really members for the weekend.”
Entry forms were mailed today. They can also be found at www.JCCCsite.com.
“We’re just expecting another great event,” Crowe said. “We hope to get a great turnout. I think everybody enjoys the tournament.”
In addition to the championship and senior divisions, there are several flights grouped by handicaps, so players of all abilities can participate.
The tournament is sponsored by Johnson City Honda.