Cragmont Golf Tournament founder Rick Watson, hitting a shot during the 2010 tourney at Happy Valley Country Club, has helped raise more than $250,000 through the event for the Original Free Will Baptist-owned Cragmont Assembly retreat in Black Mountain.
Times file photo
By Tom Ham
Senior Staff Writer
The beginning was meek, arguably humble.
An individual with an idea to aid a debt-ridden cause gathered with golfers who had formed seven teams to compete in a benefit superball golf tournament. Two of those teams included just three of the needed four players.
The time was October, 1980. The place: Happy Valley Country Club. The occasion: The inaugural Cragmont Golf Tournament.
The Cragmont soon flourished, expanding into a two-day event in 1985 and gaining impetus as it embraced the 21st century. The 38th Cragmont is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, Aug. 3-4 — still at Happy Valley.
However, No. 38 will be the last Cragmont to benefit the Cragmont Assembly, a retreat of Original Free Will Baptist churches in the state, and sponsor youngsters’ Cragmont camp opportunities at Black Mountain.
Rick Watson, the founder and director, is in the process of informing the event’s hundreds of supporters that the tournament, believed to be the only two-day benefit golf tournament in existence, will cease after 37 years.
The 68-year-old Watson, a retired banking executive, has confirmed a decision he has pondered for approximately a year.
“We are sending cards out to come along for the last hurrah,” Watson said. “We are leaving options open for, perhaps, memorial tournaments or even a reunion.
“It has been extremely emotional. The Cragmont is a big part of me and I am a big part of it.
“It’s like your child getting married. It’s 38 years of my family’s life. It’s heart and soul. It’s deeply embedded in what my family has dedicated itself to for so many years. It becomes a part of you and you are giving up a part of yourself.
HARD TO LEAVE
“Leaving is hard but being gone will be fine. It’s hard to leave.”
Watson leaves no specific reason for saying “goodbye,” only to offer: “It’s time to go.”
The decision is one endorsed by Watson’s wife, Joanne, and his daughter, Dana Watson Batchelor.
Gary Hobgood, head golf professional at Happy Valley, expressed regret, but was understanding of the predicament.
“It’s a wonderful decision,” contended Watson’s daughter.
She explained the question has surfaced the last few years as to who would take on the responsibility.
Batchelor sensed she was the heir apparent.
“But I told Dad a few years back that I don’t want it,” she commented. “It wouldn’t be the same; I could not do it the way he did it.”
Batchelor spoke of her Dad’s need to back off.
“It’s a nine-month endeavor,” she pointed out. “Dad saw the need and he’s done it. It’s time to sit back.”
She noted the process has come full circle, explaining tournament proceeds enabled her to attend Cragmont’s summer camp and, this summer, one of her three children will be among the beneficiaries.
Batchelor observed the Cragmont has, for her family, a mission instead of about raising money. She reasons it has become more about influencing and affecting people’s lives.
Struggling with her emotions, Batchelor added: “At some point you have to call it. Every great thing has to end. In my eyes, we have done the best we can.”
Hobgood hopes for alternatives to keep a signature event for Happy Valley in existence.
“I hate to see it go,” he said. “I have been here 28 years and the Cragmont is going on 38. It has been a part of me ever since I have been here.
“It’s going to be sad, tough. It’s what we look forward to every August when it’s 110 degrees. It will be sorely missed.”
APPEAL TO THE COMMON GOLFER
The Cragmont premise, Watson explained, was to appeal to the common golfer. Folks just kept coming back, many of them bringing newcomers.
Watson estimates more than 25 golfers have participated in at least 25 renditions of the Cragmont.
Ray Wells, the pastor at Marsh Swamp Church, has played in all of them to date. Leroy Marshall, Alton Absher and Kay Manning were absent for only the inaugural. Jackie Pope and Don Ribiero have graced most of them.
Watson reflects upon the encouragement and inspiration provided by such individuals as Paul Johnson, Gary Hall and the late Richie Creech.
The largest turnout was a staggering 102 teams just before the turn of the century. Ninety-plus teams have consistently entered the last several summers.
Some 800 youngsters who have worked at the tournament have been rewarded with camp trips. Over $250,000 has been raised to benefit Cragmont Assembly.
As Cragmont’s treasurer, Watson organized the tournament in hopes of alleviating Cragmont’s huge debt.
He chuckles and remembers that the late Bill Ellis, in behalf of Bill’s Barbecue Restaurant, provided eight barbecue plates as prizes for the first tournament.
Cragmont grew Bill’s signing on as the title sponsor in 1985, followed by DSW Electric in 1993 and, currently, Parker’s Barbecue. Strides in technology enabled Watson and his vast number of volunteers to keep supporters informed.
Tournament appeal escalated, said Watson, because of Bill’s becoming the title sponsor, as well as technology and media willingness to publicize the event.
Currently, 67 teams are confirmed for the farewell, and Watson is hoping the number will swell to 95 or 96. Ample time remains to register.
“We are what we are and we are going to do things pretty much like we’ve been doing,” Watson said of the finale. “You try to put forth best product you can put forth and hope it’s enough.”
Patrons respond the Cragmont has been more than enough but it’s some three weeks away from ending.
“The injustice of it,” Watson declared, “is that one person gets to decide that 250 other people don’t get to enjoy something. There’s some selfishness there.”