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John Reitman

By John Reitman

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Georgia-Carolinas tournament places emphasis on fun, camaraderie

Finally, a golf tournament that "gets it."
Highlands Cup host superintendents Steve Mason (left) of Sky Valley Golf Club in Georgia and Fred Gehrisch, CGCS, of Highlands Falls Country Club in North Carolina.As leaders in the golf business look for ways to attract more players, and tournament organizers seek ways to drive interest in another of a long line of fundraiser golf tournaments, maybe they all could take a cue from an industry insider golf event that offers no shortage of fun and gives back to the industry at the same time.
The fourth-annual Highlands Cup golf tournament pits eight superintendents from the Carolinas GCSA vs. their counterparts in Georgia in a Ryder Cup-style event that is long on camaraderie, and where skill level takes a back seat to "unique personalities and good-natured ribbing" says the tournament's sponsor.
Presented by Hunter Industries and Ewing Irrigation, the three-day Highlands Cup is played at Sky Valley Golf Club in Dillard, Georgia, and Highlands Falls Country Club, which is 12 miles down the road in Highlands, North Carolina. Round 1 at Sky Valley is singles matches, followed by a two-man scramble on Day 2 at Highlands Falls. The event, which was started by Hunter and Ewing as a way to reward superintendents in the area after a long, hard summer season, concludes with a two-man best-ball event back at Sky Valley.
"It has turned into a great event that I hope to continue for many years," said Sky Valley superintendent Steve Mason.
The event includes a captain's dinner and cocktail reception on Day 1 and cookouts at the Sky Valley maintenance facility after Rounds 2 and 3.
A Day 2 skills challenge back at Sky Valley raises money to support improvements to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College's Forest Lakes Golf Club in Tifton, Georgia. More than just a closest-to-the-hole competition, the skills challenge includes putting and chipping contests, a par-3 competition and an event called the "Dinosaur Shot" which tests each player's ability to nail a 15-foot inflatable dinosaur from 75 yards away.
"The success of the Highlands Cups falls squarely on the hospitality and professionalism displayed by Sky Valley Country Club and Highlands Falls Country Club," said Kevin Johnson, east coast sales manager for Hunter Industries. "This is the key ingredient that without it would be just another golf tournament."
The selection process for each team is unique.
In Georgia, the team includes the four flight winners from the annual Georgia GCSA tournament and four at-large players selected by the sponsor.
The Carolinas team includes the first four people who are quick enough to reply to Carolinas GCSA director Tim Kreger's call for entries and four at-large participants chosen by the sponsor.
Highlands Cup participants take aim at an inflatable dinosaur as part of the event's skills competition."Our unique selection process allows for a friendly competitive atmosphere much like the Phoenix Open is to the PGA," Johnson said. "Golf skills are secondary to unique personalities and good natured teasing among participants."
The Georgia team won this year's event 9-7 and received the Nichols Cup which is named for legendary superintendent Randy Nichols, CGCS, who was inducted into the Georgia GCSA Hall of Fame in 2011.
"It is a great way to create camaraderie with superintendents between both associations, to honor my mentor (Randy Nichols) in this industry through the Nichols Cup, and to support my friends at Hunter and Ewing who have supported me throughout my career," said Fred Gehrisch, CGCS at Highlands Falls. "The nice thing about the whole event is I've never heard a sales pitch. It's only been about the superintendent and creating a networking opportunity for everyone."
Players wear shirts and hats, representing their home course and their favorite college.
"It gives each participant an identity that people remember throughout the tournament," Johnson said. "Most superintendents that participate in the Highlands Cup are from very prestigious colleges that are very prideful and have a deep history in football. Because of the timing of the tournament, first week in October, we are in the middle of football season which promotes good-natured teasing among participants. Wearing your college or club's colors not only promotes turf talk but gives you an identity that people can relate to.
"What is unique is the loud and obnoxious colors that some choose to wear representing each participant's college or club, which makes it even more fun."

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