Back where it all began

At 25, Wilson Cup pairings have that throwback feel

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Back in 1994, the Wilson Cup interclub golf competition debuted with Willow Springs Country Club opposing Happy Valley Country Club and Wilson Country Club matched against Wedgewood Public Golf Course.

The Cup’s 25th edition is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday and, you guessed it, the first-round pairings list Happy Valley vs. Willow Springs and WCC vs. Wedgewood at Wilson Country Club.

Representatives from each of the four courses drew for the pairing for the three-round, round-robin segment Saturday at WCC and Sunday at Wedgewood during Thursday night’s pre-Cup gathering at WCC.

“Just like it started,” mused Gene Williams, selected as Happy Valley’s captain with 29-year head professional Gary Hobgood now functioning in a similar capacity in Edenton.

Hobgood does plan to be present to view some of Saturday’s two sessions at WCC.

Wedgewood is the defending champion and awaiting this weekend’s champion is a commemorative banner that recognizes the Cup’s 25th year. The banner will be signed by all 40 players from the four teams. The field is expanded to 10 players, including two Senior (ages 55-up) participants, per team.

Saturday morning’s preliminaries will include ceremonial tee shots from 12-year-old Ethan Boykin in behalf of Hobgood and 4-year-old Thomas Layton, the youngest participant in the 40-year history of the Larry Pittman Memorial/Wilson County Junior Golf Championship.

Play at WCC on Saturday begins at 8 a.m. with Willow Springs and Happy Valley first up. The afternoon session starts at 1 p.m.

The final two round-robin matches are set for 8 a.m. Sunday at Wedgewood, with the championship match planned for 1 p.m. Sunday at Wedgewood.

Still participating 25 years later are WCC’s Bill Boles Jr. , Willow Springs’ Butch O’Briant and Wedgewood’s Harry Helmer Jr.

Cup founder Kent Williams and his older brother, Gene Williams, also played in the inaugural.

Newcomers include Happy Valley’s 62-year-old “rookie” Charles Matthews. Also playing for the first time will be Mike Caddy and Mitch Hayes of Wedgewood; Billy Clark of Willow Springs and the WCC trio of Coalter Paxton IV, Scott deKeyser and Kyle Norville.

Head professional Brady Pinner was issuing no forecasts in regards to Wedgewood’s chances of repeating and claiming its third championship.

“We are just happy to be here,” he said. “We hope to be competitive and play hard. I like our team. The guys are playing well and I hope we do well.”

Willow Springs, the 2017 runner-up, attempts to notch a record 11th title — and its first since 2010.

“We’re going to win,” clamored long-time Willow Springs owner/professional Jimmy Gurkin. “We’ve got our missing link.”

Gurkin, with a grin, declined further comment.

WCC, with eight championships, seeks redemption for a poor 2017 showing.

“I can’t wait to see what the boys bring to the table,” commented head pro Josh Price. “We are certainly prepared and all are excited for a great weekend. The guys have been thinking about it since last year.

“This is an outstanding opportunity to show the best players in the area. It’s a very cool thing and the guys are really proud of it.”

Motivation is hardly an issue for the Happy Valley lineup. The course ceased operation on Aug. 11 and the 2018 team is expected to be the final Happy Valley representative.

“It means a lot that the Wilson Cup committee gave the Valley the chance,” Gene Williams expressed. “The team is motivated. It would mean the world to pull off what I think would be an upset. I just told them to play with your heart and play for Happy Valley Country Club.”