History of the Classic
The Invitational Tournament, now known as the Energy Weldfab Meadowbrook Classic, was first played in 1937.
So here again the same old history, which if you are a regular you can skip the rest of the story since it appears every year in our Tournament booklet. Now and then a first time player may enjoy the story of perhaps the longest running East Texas Tournament, now a proud 80.
On January 16, 1932 the State of Texas issued a charter to Roy Laird, L. C. Peters and Horace Park for a country club in Kilgore. It was called Meadowbrook County Club and by the first week in February the course was opened for play over a hayfield consisting of nine fairways and nine sand greens. For the next 39 months under the guiding hand of the Club’s first pro, Tilly Wilcox, Meadowbrook struggled to gain a foothold. Golf rapidly became a popular pastime for new boomers and old settlers now rich with oil royalties.
Since its founding, Meadowbrook has occupied a prominent place in the social, sport and cultural fabric of one of the great oil towns of Texas.
The history of the country club has been detailed in an article that appeared in the 2005 Meadowbrook Classic Booklet, entitled “The Last Afternoon at Meadowbrook – The Death of Tilly Wilcox”.
Beginning in 1937, the Meadowbrook-Laird Country Club has hosted an Invitational Golf tournament every year except 1955. That year the tournament was canceled due to a renovation of the clubhouse.
The Tournament, first played in October of 1937, was called the East Texas Invitational and since then has been known by a variety of names: the Meadowbrook Invitational, the Kilgore Invitational, the East Texas Invitational, and during the war, the East Texas Victory Invitational. After 1955 the tournament’s official name was the Laird Invitational, usually shortened to “The Invitational”. In 2000 came another name – the “Meadowbrook Classic”.
Since the late 1940’s the Invitational has usually been played during July.
Of the three major tournaments played at the Meadowbrook-Laird course, the Invitational, the City Championship of the 1930’s and early ‘40’s and the Men’s Club Championship, only the Invitational was played without interruption by World War II. There were no Club or City Championships in 1943, ‘44 or ‘45. During the War, entry fees and prizes were paid in War bonds or Victory Stamps. In 1946 Meadowbrook resumed its Men’s Championship. The Kilgore City Tournament begun in 1933 was only recently reorganized.
The Invitational Champion has been determined 19 times by match play and 57 times by medal play. Nine times (1966, 1972, 1982, 1986, 1987, 1994, 1996, 2001 and 2012) the Champion was forced to win a sudden death playoff. On five occasions the runner-up has been decided by a playoff.
Beginning with the 1959 tournament, the Invitational was 72 holes of medal play, but changed to 54 holes in 1964, although the 1961 championship was shortened by rain to 63 holes. The 1968, 1999, and 2010 championships were rain halted after 45 holes. In 2005 rain limited play to 36 holes. The course has played to par 72 each year with the exceptions of 1983, 1984 and 1985, when the third hole, normally a par 4, was shortened and played as a par 3 on both nines resulting in a par of 70.
The first two champions of the Invitational, Bill Clark (1937) and Billy Russell (1938), are now barely remembered.
Billy Russell of Kilgore won the Invitational in 1940, the City Championship in 1938 and was Runner-Up to Raleigh Selby in the first Meadowbrook Club Championship in 1939. Russell became the only Kilgore High School golfer ever to win the Texas State High School Championship when he bested Frank Carvey 3-2 in the finals in April 1939. Russell went on to win the Texas State Junior College Championship in 1940 and as a Texas Longhorn captured the Individual Title in the SW Conference in 1942. Russell retired in Midland, Texas where he died March 12, 2004 .
The 1940’s saw some of the most competitive play in the tournament’s history with stars like Wally Ulrich, Buster Reed, Billy Maxwell, Earl Stewart, Gerald Joyce, LeRoy Roquemore, Ben Stroope, Don Cherry and Raleigh Selby chasing the championship through the War years. The 1945 event was a classic as former NCAA Champion and the 1944 Invitational winner, Wally Ulrich, reached the finals against Raleigh Selby. Ulrich had beaten A. C. January to claim the 1944 Championship and was favored to win again when he met Selby in 1945. He had out-dueled Selby 3-2 in the semi finals in 1944.
Selby, however, on Sunday, September 23, 1945, played one of the most brilliant rounds in the history of the Invitational shooting 63 to win over Ulrich 4-3. Ulrich also played brilliantly carding a 67 but Selby’s 63 was a course record. It was not broken in competitive play until Dick Whetzle’s 62 in the 1957 finals against Miller Barber. The 1945 Championship was Selby’s 2nd win in the Invitational. It would be five years before he would win again and nineteen before he would win for a fourth time.
The 1950’s saw several other Kilgore golfers emerge to compete for the Invitational title.
Although Selby’s 3rd championship in 1950 was to be the only victory by a Kilgore player during the '50’s, there were some near misses. Ray Dillon, a six-time Kilgore Club Champion, would lose final matches to Buster Reed in 1951 and to Benny Castloo in 1952. Although Don Kerr, Jr., only 18, played superb golf in the summer of 1956, he could not stop Jacky Cupit. Jacky’s brother Bobby had won in 1954 and Jacky beat Kerr 3-2. Cupit would close out the decade by winning the Invitational’s first medal play championship in 1959.
The late Bobby Stroope of Kilgore, was always a fierce challenger in the Invitational, but could do no better than runner-up to Miller Barber in 1958. Each of the winners of the tournament in the 1950’s, except Selby, would later play professional golf.
The 1957 finals provided a long remembered match. Dick Whetzle was 10 under par in eliminating Miller Barber 3-2. Urged to finish the full 18, Whetzle played in for a course record 62. It is not recorded if he was conceded any putts during the match, but most observers recalled that the closeness of the match necessitated holing out all putts.
In the 1960’s Clay Laird became one of three Kilgore players to win the Invitational and the only one of the three to win twice. Selby was one of the Kilgore players to win in that decade when he nabbed the title in 1964 with a 3 shot win in medal play. Laird won in 1965 and again in 1969. Earl Clark of Kilgore won the tournament in 1967.
The golf careers of Clark and Laird were on parallel tracks for many years. Both Laird and Clark caddied at Kilgore in the early years and both would win the Club Championship on more than one occasion and both would fulfill their ambitions to become the Invitational Champion.
A highlight of the mid-1960’s was the amazing victory of Raleigh Selby in the 1964 championship. At age of 52 he beat runner-up Bobby Nelson by one shot to claim his fourth championship. Selby was also the medallist in 1964 and his win that year allowed him to join Bill Clark of Gladewater and Jacky Cupit of Greggton as winners of the tournament at both match and medal play.
The 1970’s saw one of the most popular victories in tournament history and also produced its lowest 54 holes of medal play and the lowest 18 hole medal score. In 1972 a Stroope finally put his name on the Invitational Trophy when Jimmy, at age 42, defeated Billy Wiggs of Denton in a three-hole playoff. Summer after summer, Ben Stroope and his two sons, Jimmy and Bobby, had been among the premier players in the field, and though each had finished 2nd twice, there had been no victories. Now Jimmy was the Champion. A Stroope had finally won the Invitational, but no Stroope has been a serious contender for the title since.
Sub-par numbers were posted on the scorecards of the 70’s. Only once in the decade (1976) was the winning score not below par. Mike Hopson’s 11 under par 205 in 1971 and Lance Dunaway’s 205 in 2003 were record scores. Hopson’s margin of victory was eleven shots better than runner-up Tommy Tyson.
Rick Maxey became the first player to successfully defend his championship by winning back-to-back in 1974 and 1975. Billy Wiggs of Denton was the most consistent challenger during the 70’s. He won in 1977 after 2nd place finishes in ‘75 and ‘76.
The close of the 70’s saw Mike Mayo of Garland win the first of his three championships. Mayo was the titlist in 1978 and again in 1981 and 1987.
The 1980’s and 1990’s saw a new crop of young Kilgore golfers contend in the tournament.
Mike Tate, a KHS and TCU graduate, won in 1984 with George Lewis runner-up, making it a 1-2 finish for Kilgore. Tate lost by a shot in 1987 when Mike Mayo won his 3rd title.
David Cline in 1991 and Randy King in 1994 joined the roster of Kilgore champions. Cline, after a playoff loss to Ben Smith in 1982, rallied to win in 1991 by a stroke over Eddie Welch also of Kilgore.
The 1992 Invitational produced a scoring record and a "near miss" for Rick Maxey. Almost 20 years after back-to-back wins in 1974 and 1975, Maxey produced the lowest 18-hole medal play score in the history of the tournament with a blistering 8-under par 64 during the 2nd round. Ronnie Hooker shook off the effect of Maxey’s 64 and rallied in the 3rd round shooting a 66 to Maxey’s 74 for a 2-stroke victory. Hooker’s 9-under was the 2nd lowest 54-hole score for the Invitational.
Randy King’s playoff win over Gary Chandler in the 1994 classic was particularly memorable. On the 2nd play-off hole, King executed a pitch shot from an extremely difficult lie to save par and the championship. King got up and down after his second shot was long and almost on the road behind number 2 green. Most observers agreed it was a career shot.
In 1998 and again in 1999, collegiate golfer, Seane Richardson of Pine Tree won back-to-back titles. In 2000, Richardson declined to defend his title.
Since the 2000 Meadowbrook Classic was billed a reunion tournament, it was perhaps fitting that a Past Champion stepped out of the shadows to win. Rick Maxey shot 208, eight under par, to win his third crown. Gary Antunes of Henderson finished 3 strokes back at 211. The 2000 event also produced a new format which created a team competition along with the Individual Medal Play. The team captained by Kenneth Plunk won the 36-hole team event with a score of 232. Mike Beane's team finished second with a 234.
The 2001 and 2002 tournaments proved equally exciting and event filled. With a new format, a new century, and a new spirit of excellence, it was not surprising that new talent emerged seeking the championship.
In 2001, Jay Mitchell, Kenny Rucker, and Eric Joseph went to the 54th hole with a chance to win or tie. Mitchell and Rucker survived tense putts on the last hole to tie at –6 under 210 and went into the eighth playoff in tournament history. Mitchell won on the 3rd extra hole. Bubba Clark’s team won the team event with a 231 and Phillip Reifschneider’s team placed second with a 235.
In 2002 Blake Ladd was the first left hander to win the Invitational. Blake won with a stirring 67, 68 finish to edge Clayton Friend, the pro at Pinecrest. The championship team was captained by Sam McCord with Kenny Mobbs’ team placing second.
Lance Dunaway, a former Pine Tree High School golfer, added to the lore of the 2003 Classic by firing 11-under par over three days. His score tied the course record set by Mike Hopson in 1971. Mike Beane’s foursome shot a 234 to win the team event, while the teams captained by Jimmy Stroope, Jr. and Llynal Carey both netted 238 for second place.
Blake Ladd became a multiple winner adding the 2004 championship to his resume. Ladd’s superb final round putting held off a sub-par finish by Clayton Friend, who finished runner-up for the second time in 3 years. Chip Stewart and Jay Mitchell, winner of the Invitational in 2001, tied for 3rd at 215. Ryan Hill’s even par 216 was good for 5th place. Hill later in the year qualified for the U.S. Amateur.
The year 2005 brought thunderstorms and only 36-holes of play for the championship. Clint Bowden won with a two-day total of 137, with Alan Clark close behind at 141. Ken Burnham Jr. and Henry Cagigal tied for third place at 142.
Brent Akins, former Spring Hill High School golfer and Oklahoma City University NAIA golfing All-American, won the 2006 tournament by four strokes with a 214. 2005 champion Clint Bowden, Ken Burnham, Jr. and Patrick Palmer were in a three-way tie for second at 218.
In 2007 rain forced a rescheduling of the tournament. Reggie Howell of Tyler won by a stroke over Ken Burnham, Jr. Blaine Weiterman finished third.
The championship victory of Rick Maxey in 2008 was a history maker for the tournament. Maxey at 58 years and eight months became the oldest player to win the title and tied Raleigh Selby for the most wins (4) ever. Maxey outscored a strong field including the 2007 champ Reggie Howell and Jacksonville’s Greg Hamilton, who tied for runner-up two strokes behind. Hamilton won the scorecard playoff for second. Howell’s ace on the 16th hole was a crowd thriller and gave him a late rally.
Joseph Totah was only 21 in 2009 when he made a mockery of the tournament’s scoring record. His long hitting game along with flawless putting carried him to a record shattering performance.
Totah, a Palestine native, shot under 70 in all three rounds. He fired a 69 on the first day, a 65 on Saturday, and a 67 on Sunday. Kilgore’s Justin Honea was just a stroke back – 68 – after the first day, and kept pace. He shot a 70 on the second day and a 68 on Sunday, finishing with a 206, 10 under-par, a new record for a runner-up in the tournament.
Rain limited the 2010 championship to 45 holes, but Blaine Weiterman of Overton made it two in a row for the young by winning his first Classic title. A stroke play record 63 in the final round gave Weiterman a five shot margin over B. J. Hawkins. Rick Maxey, seeking his fifth Meadowbrook title, played consistently at two under par to nab third place. Alan Clark, formerly of Kilgore, was fourth and the 2006 titleist Brent Akins was fifth. The team championship was won by Kenneth Plunk's team with second place going to Mike Beane's team.
In 2011, Dave Davis became part of the Meadowbrook lore, with a closing 67, best of the Tournament to win a splendid 2 stroke victory over a quartet of runners-up including Rick Maxey, a four-time winner and 2010 runner-up for the second time. The 2011 team champions were Jay Stone, Todd Reynolds, Dean Fussell and Kynan Laird.
The 75th playing of the Classic in 2012 was decided for the ninth time by a play-off. Blaine Weiterman of Overton outlasted competitors Bryan Baker of Tyler and former champion Joseph Totah of Palestine, each shooting a 210 over three days of play. Kenneth Plunk, Sr., David Plunk, Kenneth Plunk, Jr. and Rodney Barthelemess won the team championship. This is the third time since 2000 that Plunk’s team has accomplished this feat.
Bobby Massa of Tyler won in 2013 with a three day total of 206. Joseph Totah finished as runner up for the second year in a row with a 211 and J.R. Ault came in third with a 212. Zane McDonald, Vance McDonald, Logan Russell and David Zapata won the team championship.
2014 brought an exciting time with Energy Weldfab becoming the named sponsor of the Tournament. They have always supported the Tournament and have now brought it to a new level of excellence.
Tyler’s Bryan Baker added his name to the annals of history in 2014 by winning the 77th Classic, shooting a total of 208. Andrew Koonce finished just two shots back from Baker, at 210, and B.J. Waters came in third with a 212. Zane McDonald, Vance McDonald, Logan Russell and Gregg Ayers won the team championship.
In 2015, Bryan Baker defended his 2014 title by defeating Travis Chrietzberg and Dean Brown by just one stroke shooting a 69-70-73 for a 212 total. Chrietzberg shot 74-73-66 and Brown shot 68-71-74 for near wins. Chad Beale, Taylor Campbell, Brad Busselman and Justin Adair won the team championship.
In 2016, Brent Akins held off Bryan Baker and Andrew Koonce by one stroke to win his second Meadowbrook championship, ten years after his first win in 2006. Akins shot 68-68-72, while Koonce shot 69-70-70 and Baker 67-71-71. Scott Clark, Joe Elwood, Jeff Long and Kyle Barton won the team championship.
2017 brought three past champions vying to win their third title: Brent Akins (2006, 2016), Bryan Baker (2014, 2015) and Blaine Weiterman (2010, 2012). Stetson McMillan would prevail as the champion of the 2017 Classic.
Written by Terry Stembridge - 2000 Tournament Chairman