COLUMBIA – Dee Sanders made it interesting for himself in the final round of the Columbia Seniors Invitational Championship. Luckily, he had played so well the previous day it didn't end up affecting the outcome.
Sanders captured his third tournament title Sunday, following Saturday's round of 64 at Lake of the Woods Golf Course with a 71 at A.L. Gustin Golf Course. His total score of 135 broke the previous tournament record of 137 held by Bob Martin.
Sanders entered Sunday with a five-stroke lead thanks to eight birdies the previous day. Leaning on his short game, Sanders needed only 22 putts to build his lead.
Sunday proved different. Sanders experienced an up-and-down day.
“I didn’t have a good ball striking day today. I didn’t trust anything I hit which you need to do to play well,” said Sanders, 53. “But I didn’t make any major blunders.”
At the par three, 166-yard hole 10 on Sunday, Sanders hit his tee shot within inches of the cup. After making his first birdie of the day, Sanders hoped to use that motivation for the rest of the day but couldn’t find a groove.
“I needed that shot on 10. It gave me confidence at the turn. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use that to make a run,” said Sanders.
For a brief moment, Sanders saw his chance at the title flash before his eyes. An errant drive on 17 left his chance to make the green questionable. Still Sanders decided to try his luck. However, his approach shot hit a tree, forcing him into a double bogey. He rebounded quickly with a birdie on 18 to finish the tournament on a high note. Sanders ended up winning by five strokes.
Sanders has not limited his competitive golf career to Columbia. In 2007, he qualified for the U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straights, Wisc. Although missing the cut by six strokes, Sanders cherished the opportunity to play on such a large stage.
“It was a blast. It was real fun to make a birdie and hear the big roar from the crowd,” said Sanders, a heating and air conditioner contractor for Hulett Heating and Air Conditioning. "But it didn't feel good to hear the groan after a bad drive."
Aside from Sanders’ record score, Sunday marked another notable event in the Columbia golf community. Rex Dillow, chairman of the Senior Invitational, stepped down after 16 years of organizing the tournament. Dillow, who directed and organized the Kiwanis Columbia City Golf Championship from its inception in 1975 until 2004, received praise from players throughout the day.
“He’s a pioneer in the golf community here. Things wouldn’t be nearly as advanced if it wasn’t for him,” said Hardeep Bhullar, 66, current director of the Kiwanis Columbia City Golf Championship.
In 1974, Dillow helped organize the first city golf championship in Columbia after fielding a call from Bill Clark, a writer for the Columbia Tribune and baseball scout for the Cincinnati Reds. Clark believed that Columbia needed a tournament that stimulated individual play and competition. On August 7, the city championship will celebrate its 35th tournament.
“The top golfers from Columbia got involved from the start and helped it get started,” said Dillow. “Francis Hagan and others really made it a prestigious tournament.”
After years of success with the city championship, Dillow began to receive calls from golfers he knew involved with the tournament in their 50’s. They wanted Dillow to revolutionize golf in Columbia a second time and organize a senior championship. Eventually, that desire transformed into the Columbia Senior Invitational.
“People started mentioning it and slowly more people were talking about it. The consistent chatter showed a desire for this tournament,” said Dillow, who spent 27 years as an officer in the Marines and 15 years as assistant director of facilities for the University of Missouri. “It’s given seniors a chance to compete, no matter the age.”
Bob Martin, 72, proved that on Sunday. Martin took home the Super Senior Championship. His total of 144 was also good for third overall. Super Seniors are any participants over the age of 60.
“This tournament is so important to me. I have a great time playing every year and to be considered one of the top golfers in the community is significant,” said Martin.
After he collected the Super Senior trophy, onlookers joked to “check his birth certificate.” The friendship enjoyed is as valuable to Martin as the chance to compete.
“That’s why I like these guys. They’re my best friends out here,” said Martin.
“He’s 72 years old and he shot 70 on Saturday. You don’t shoot your age unless you’re smokin’ it, and he always does,” said Dave Weir, who finished second overall with a 140.
The chance to compete enjoyed by Martin and others like it have helped Columbia grow into a functioning and legitimate golf community. As Gary Zwonitzer, Dillow’s successor as chairman, addressed the crowd at the trophy ceremony, he acknowledged Dillow’s hard work. The field of golfers responded with a genuine ovation.
One only has to look at the name of the trophy of the City Championship, the Dillow Cup, to realize the impact Dillow has had on golf in Columbia.
“It (the golf community) has grown by leaps and bounds. Every year we try to make it more polished,” said Bhullar. “Courses are getting tougher, pin placement is more challenging. The top 10 in tournaments are always bunched together without someone running away with it. That speaks to the quality of golfers here.”
Sanders, a nine-time city champion, echoed Bhullar’s statements.
“Rex Dillow has done wonders as far as organization is concerned," Sanders said. "Without him you wouldn’t have the history of Columbia golf. I wouldn’t have the chance to compete in all the tournaments I have here. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude. “