“In its heyday in the 1970s, the Vince Lombardi Golf Classic rivaled the PGA Tour stop in Milwaukee as the summer’s must-see golf event.”
That was the opening line in a Milwaukee (WI) Journal Sentinel feature story this week. The writer told how the professional tour event, The Greater Milwaukee Open, lost corporate and community support and finally folded in 2009. The Lombardi Classic also went into decline, but rallied under new leadership and once again is a premier links event. Coincidentally, both tournaments have 42-year histories.
The Classic is one of five events sponsored by the Lombardi Cancer Foundation. The foundation has raised more than $15 million to fight the disease that prematurely took the life of Vince Lombardi, the iconic Green Bay Packers coach.
In 1979 I was in my 32nd year as a Packers fan. I’d heard very little about the golf tournament, but thought I’d have a look at it because a local news story said several Packers would be playing. The event was held, as it will be June 8-9 this year, at North Hills Country Club, which was a mile from our home in Menomonee Falls.
I walked to the country club about mid-afternoon, some four hours after the advertised start of the tournament. My mostly cross-country journey was designed to get me there as directly, not as precisely, as possible. I wound up nowhere near the club entrance. I encountered a roped-off parking lot. Entry was easy and inexpensive. I just lifted the rope, ducked, and walked in.
A large tent to my left looked like a central point of some sort. My arrival there was greeted with shouts of “Stand back!” I and dozens of others did as former president Gerald R. Ford passed within six feet of me on the way to the scorer’s table. The smiling ex-president was escorted by several very serious young men, assumed to be Secret Service agents. I joined the crowd in applauding Mr. Ford.
Spectators seemed to be moving around randomly. I heard several talking about going to the sixth tee, because “you can see a lot of action from there.” I went to the sixth tee. From the elevated vantage point I saw:
1. Bart Starr, legendary Packers quarterback, do on the golf course what “Mr. Perfect” had done for years on the football field. He hit a beautiful long drive right down the middle of the sixth fairway.
2. On another fairway observable from my position on the hill, a very big man wearing Chicago Bears colors hit the longest fairway wood shot I’ve ever seen. The accuracy wasn’t great, but the distance was awesome. Memory dims, but that golfer was either Dick Butkus or Mike Ditka.
One of the heart-warming things about the tournament over the years has been participation by former Bears players in an event honoring their supposedly all-time “hated rival” Green Bay coach. The gridiron enemies proved they could be on the same team for good causes.
The tournament has a celebrity-guest format. The celebrities donate their time. This year the guests will pay $995 each to play with the famous folks, and the slots are sold out. The 2012 field includes 14 current Packers among the 40 celebs. And, yes, Bart Starr will be there playing once again.
Spectators get in for a paltry $10 donation, with all proceeds benefiting the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation. The entry fee probably wasn’t even that small amount in 1979 when I avoided it, but there ought to be some penalty for those who sneaked in back then and are feeling a little guilty now recalling the intrusion.
The geezer just redeemed himself in a small way by sending a $10 donation via www.lombardifoundation.org Checks may be mailed to: Lombardi Cancer Foundation, P.O. Box 341217, Milwaukee, WI, 53234-1217.
Everybody who gets involved in this tournament wins.