Keepers of the Green

MEDORA -- All that was missing Wednesday and Thursday was an ocean breeze and a pint of ale during the eighth annual Hurdzan-Fry World Invitational Golf Tournament at Bully Pulpit Golf Course here.

MEDORA -- All that was missing Wednesday and Thursday was an ocean breeze and a pint of ale during the eighth annual Hurdzan-Fry World Invitational Golf Tournament at Bully Pulpit Golf Course here.

With a strong wind at their backs and the smell of rain in the air, members of the Keepers of the Green took over the course for their round of golf dressed in traditional golf attire and playing with handmade, hickory shafted clubs.

"The game of golf is so good it doesn't need to go high tech, so we use equipment which is over 100 years old," Bully Pulpit Golf Course designer Dr. Michael Hurdzan said. "I've played with wood shaft clubs for 45 years on about 60-70 courses in Europe and about the same amount in the U.S. Doing this is a tribute to the heritage of golf and a gentle protest to making things so high tech."

Hurdzan also is the founder of the Keepers of the Green United States Chapter, which had around a dozen of its 35 total members present for its annual event held in Medora this year. The Keepers of the Green is a Scottish-based charity organization, which raises funds to buy manual or powered wheelchairs for those in need.

Playing with wooden clubs brings a whole new approach to hitting the ball, Hurdzan said.


"The swing is different with the wooden clubs, you have to sweep instead of lift and the swing has to be smoother and slower," he added. "These clubs don't have the grooves like new ones do. You have to hit pure, but these hit about 75-80 percent as far just without a spin on the ball."

The Keepers were founded 15 years ago by George Mackey of St. Andrews, Scotland, home of the renowned St. Andrew's Golf Course. Hurdzan formed the U.S. chapter shortly after. Since 2000, the group's event has been at a different course designed by Hurdzan and his company, Hurdzan/Fry Golf Course Design of Columbus, Ohio.

"The Keepers of the Green have two functions. The first is to preserve the tradition of golf and its history of being played since the 1800s, and the second is to raise money for those who need mobility and otherwise are unable to get it for themselves," Keepers organizer David Whelchel said. "The U.S. chapter was formed on its own with members spanning the country from Arizona to New Jersey. We play with the kind of clubs used by old Tom Morris, who won the British Open several times in the 1800s."

Old Tom Morris is a legend of golf and golf course design. He lived in St. Andrews in the late 1800s. Morris was the greens keeper at the renowned Links of St. Andrew course. Between 1851 and 1904, he designed around 100 golf courses in Great Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.

"It's the philanthropy of Old Morris and his strong Christian belief in helping people in need that we want to honor, as well as those traditions, which is why we play in period dress," Hurdzan said.

The invitational was played Wednesday and Thursday at Bully Pulpit with 63 people of the golf industry, including past clients, golf suppliers, contractors, superintendents, professionals and friends of the game. Most years, the event has around 80 participants, while close to 400 invitations are sent out prior to the event. The most to ever play in the event is 100 golfers.

Since 2002, the Keepers have decided to play an additional nine holes and they did so at Bully Pulpit on Wednesday after the first Invitational round. They enjoyed dressing up in 4-plus style pants (knickers) and using the wooden clubs. Many of the members walked the course.

The invitational participants' entry fees and other donations are how the Keepers raise funds for their charity of giving away a wheelchair. Depending on the amount raised and what type of wheelchair is needed by a local person, the funding needs to change every year.


"There could be anywhere from one to five getting wheelchairs. This year we raised $15,000 for a man in Dickinson who has Lou Gerhig's disease and needs a high-powered wheelchair," Whelchel said. "We worked with Stark County Social Services to find out who needed a wheelchair in the area. We hope this will help him more and give him more mobility and function."

The wheelchair has a mouthpiece or finger pad control unit, he added. The man receiving the donation did not want to be identified.

Coming back to a course he designed, Hurdzan was excited to experience it as a Keeper of the Green. There are certain aspects of all the courses he's worked on which he likes to rediscover, he said.

"What I love most about this course is the beauty," Hurdzan said. "Being in and around the Badlands landscape, close to the river and going up and down buttes is great. Encountering wildlife is a part of the adventure and experience."

Being in the business of golf is a pleasurable way to pay the bills, he added.

"What it boils down to is sharing and sportsmanship," Hurdzan said. "Playing golf with someone is a great revealer of their character and it shows you who they are more than anything, especially after four hours on a course."

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