Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ask The Boss If You Can Come Do This For A Day -- And Get A Shirt And Hat And Some Free Golf

(From Sunday's Times and News-Star)
Oct. 3-8, 2015
VOLUNTEER: 768-7000, or mail

I’ve got clearance to offer you a deal.

No strings here. No pyramid deal. No lawyer to see. I’m not a foreign widow who needs you to send me francs or rubles or to deposit some cash into a Swiss account.

I’m just a guy with some solid information.

The deal is this: you volunteer to help one day with the 29th U.S.  Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at Squire Creek Oct. 3-8 in cozy Choudrant, and in exchange you get a complimentary round of golf redeemable through April 1 at the state’s best course (which would be the very same Squire Creek), a nice hat and shirt, and the good feeling of knowing you’ve helped with only the second United States Golf Association event in the state in the past half century.

You don’t have to know a golf ball from a cue ball from a debutante ball to help. You don’t play golf? No problem. You still get a good-looking hat and shirt, you watch golf and you enjoy this beautiful piece of land God created and man molded into a world-class golf course. That prize package is easily more than $150. (Holla!)

There’s a lot to get to in a little bit of time, so let’s give you some quick info.

The USGA is the not-for-profit governing body of the game of golf. This championship is one of only 13 it holds each year, including the Men’s, Senior Men’s and Women’s Open Championships.

The other 10 are amateur championships, such as the one that ends today in Olympia Fields, Ill., the 115th U.S. Amateur Championship. Three young Shreveport golfers competed there this week: Sam Burns, Philip Barbaree and Eric Ricard. You’ve heard of Hal Sutton? He won the U.S. Amateur’s Havemeyer Trophy in 1980.

The championship in October is one of “those,” a biggie, and the second-most prestigious and coveted women’s amateur title behind only the U.S. Women’s Amateur, the other-gender counterpart to the championship that ends today in Illinois.  

A field of 132 females age 25 and older will compete, golfers who won their way here by qualifying in regional events that are ongoing. Customarily, seven countries and virtually all states are represented in USGA championships. It’s a big deal for the competitors, who earn not a dime for travel or playing. It’s all about the love of the game and the competition.

But it’s also a big deal for our area. The golf world’s eye will be on our state, specifically on north Louisiana. Word of how the players and their families were treated, how the overall experience was, will travel far and wide, and the only cost to us as fans is to support the event, which is free to anyone wanting to come out and either volunteer to help or just watch and enjoy this course and the world’s best female amateur golfers.

The historical significance is obvious: the USGA revisits places that prove solid for championships. Squire Creek, which only this July turned into a teenager, has twice hosted the state women’s Mid-Amateur and in 2013 hosted the Louisiana Women’s Amateur. But the October title event is a big, prestigious step in a small window of time for a club that 15 years ago was trees and creeks and cattle and dirt-bike paths. At that time, it had seen thousands of cow patties and zero Titleists.

Then came July 2002, and this gift from the Davison family to the area was ranked No. 5 by Golf Digest on its list of best new U.S. courses. Since, it’s consistently ranked No. 1 or 2 among Louisiana courses.

The venue is there. So are the people. Both are championship caliber. We just need to get out there and support and enjoy this experience. Some companies – Community Trust Bank, Bank of Ruston and Argent for sure -- are even offering their employees a day off, a free, look-the-other-way day, in exchange for a day volunteering at the championship. Somebody, go talk to the boss!

And it’s not hard. Easy as falling off a porch. You can sit in the shade and help locate wayward tee shots. You can caddy (which pays money)! You can help with scoring, transportation and hospitality. We even need someone to guard the trophy: even in a gentleman’s game, you can’t be too careful!

Check out, call (318) 768-7000 or email for information on how you can be an important part of the biggest golf event ever in our area. For your attention, please accept this tip of my high-handicap golf hat to you.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Wiley and Winston, the 'big white dog,' together again

(Forgot to post for a while. My bad...)
From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Most of you won’t remember Winston, who appeared in the newspaper from time to time during the past 10 years or so.

But no steady reader of the paper will forget Wiley Hilburn, your faithful and dependable north Louisiana columnist for decades until he passed away Jan. 16, 2014, at age 75.

That’s 17 months ago. Time is a funny thing.

Winston was an often sleepy but always loyal companion to Wiley and his wife, Kate. It was Kate who sent me a note with the sobering news this week, early Tuesday evening:

“Just wanted you to know that I put Winston to sleep this morning; he had lost use of his back legs and it turned out he had a bone cancer on his spine.”

Winston was a Lab mix, mostly Lab but definitely some “mix.” (I never asked Wiley. Or Winston. Some things you just don’t bring up.) They called him the “big white dog,” which is about as perfect as you can get in description. Winston was all three of those things.

“He never barked,” Kate said. “He smelled good. Expert sleeper and napper. He was comfort to Wiley during his hard times and my companion during mine.”

You think of the truth in that, then multiply it by millions. It should remind us that, among other blessings we should pause daily to think on, we should take at least five minutes just to be thankful for the dogs we have been so lucky to know, much less share life with.

Just the fact that Winston grew old — it definitely was not work or over-activity that did him in — that he could not dodge disease, that the world is short one more loyal companion for a worthy mom, is sad. And someone else will have to make a similar decision and do the right thing — a hard thing — this week. God bless you.

But the upside, at least for Kate, is this: “I’m trying to picture Wiley and Winston,” she said, “piled up on some heavenly couch watching a Cubs game.”

Many of you remember Atlanta-based syndicated columnist Lewis Grizzard, who wrote of his black Lab Catfish often, including when Catfish died. Grizzard passed away 20 years ago this past March — (time is a funny thing) — and the cartoon I remember from that time by Mike Luckovich is of Catfish running through the Pearly Gates to greet his typewriter-toting friend.

I like to think of Wiley doing the same to greet Winston.

I did not spend a lot of time around Winston. Sort of let him have his space on the few times I went out to Wiley and Kate’s house in Choudrant. For one thing, Winston had some girth about him. And he didn’t speak, so he always fooled me into thinking he was some giant silent assassin. And he knew I wasn’t Wiley because I was not in the big chair reading a book or watching the game, which were Wiley’s two main positions. If you could see the chair and the den set-up — lots of books on shelves and cozy but still big enough for a big white dog to maneuver — you’d wonder why Wiley ever bothered to leave the house at all.

Books right there. Sweet chair. Blanket. Remote. Game on. Dog. Is this where we strike up the “Hallelujah Chorus”?

During Wiley’s teenage years, Elvis had his first big hit. (Elvis died 38 years ago this Sunday, by the way. There’s that ‘time’ thing again...) And I loved Elvis/Ebis, but there’s no such thing as “nothin’ but a hound dog,” not if somebody really loves that dog, and not if that dog really loves somebody.
Just to keep you up to speed, before I knew I’d hear from Kate, I went by Wiley’s Tuesday, by his grave, in mid-morning. I parked for a few minutes, Wiley on my left, his Ruston Bearcats practicing football, not more than 100 yards away, behind Wiley and in front of me. I suppose that at about the same time, a few miles east, while sweaty teenagers pushed a sled and coaches blew whistles and life rolled on with all it’s grand possibilities, Kate was bravely taking Winston, a good soldier through Wiley’s sickness and beyond, to the doctor.

I hope that Kate’s wish from earlier came true. And not that it would have mattered so much to Wiley and Winston on this first night back together, but Tuesday night, the Cubs moved 15 games above .500. They beat Milwaukee, 6-3.