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In 1952, Kalamazoo Country Club members Henry Kennedy, Dudley Cutler, George Zupanik and Larry Hallack were not invited to play in a two man golf tournament held at Blythefield Country Club in Grand Rapids. KCC’s most tenured member, Harry Rapley, reports that, instead of hanging their heads in disappointment, they said, “Phooy to you! We will start our own tournament that will be bigger and better than yours!” Thus, the KCC Invitational was born.
In 1954, 64 players from Detroit, Jackson, Grand Rapids, Benton Harbor and Kalamazoo gathered for the inaugural KCC Invitational. That year, most of the 32 two man teams did not include a KCC member. It was important that the field included Chuck Kocsis, who was considered the premier amateur golfer in Michigan. Another early favorite was the duo of Brooks Godfrey and Jim Rock, who were state high school golf stars. Kocsis, who was paired with KCC member Tyler “Bud” Riggin (the man with the golden wedge), defeated Godfrey and Rock in an exciting final match that attracted a gallery of over 1,500. At that time, Jack Moss was a sportswriter for the Kalamazoo Gazette. Jack had been a caddie at the KCC and had many fond memories of KCC and its members. His daily newspaper reports of the tournament helped to spur the interest of Kalamazoo area golf fans. The tournament garnered even more interest when, in the Finals of the second tournament in 1955, Godfrey and Rock defeated Kocsis and Riggin.
In the early years, the KCC Invitational was about much more than golf. Most of the players were married and the Invitational was all about a family vacation. Much like today, contestants were treated to excellent food and drink and there was tremendous camaraderie. In addition, players and their wives were treated to a fashion show and twilight golf with KCC members. During the tournament, the clubhouse stayed open until the wee hours of the morning for dancing, piano playing, cigar smoking and more than a few adult beverages. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, many players were seen having some difficulty getting their peg in the ground on the first tee. Kocsis was known to take advantage of this fact. One time, a player approached him as he was leaving a party and told him, “Chuck, you’re leaving early and you didn’t even have a drink. That’s no fun.” Kocsis responded, “Don’t worry about that. I’ll have my fun in our match tomorrow.”
For many years, betting on teams was a big part of the fun. Teams were offered for sale at an auction called a Calcutta. Typical venues for the auctions were the KCC clubhouse, the Holiday Inn on Burdick and even the deck of Dick Stewart’s home near #16 of the golf course. Concerns about fines from the Liquor Control Commission led to the “off site” locations. Betting was stopped because it was important to not jeopardize the eligibility of the increasing number of college players coming to the tournament in 1975. PGA tour pros and top amateurs from around the country, Mexico, Canada and Colombia have helped create great memories for the Invitational and Kalamazoo community.
Last year, at the Wednesday night dinner announcing the draw, KCC member Bill Johnston put the Invitational in perspective. He said, “This tournament is a part of the fabric of our city. It’s one of the events that make Kalamazoo a different and special place to live.” Thank you to all the members, contestants, families, volunteers and KCC employees who have made the Invitational a “bigger and better” event each year.