COLUMBIA — A faint exclamation of “Nice birdie!” barely reached the ears of a University of Wisconsin golfer who had recorded a 3 on the par-4, 18th hole at the Old Hawthorne Golf Club on Monday.
"Thanks Johnie, are you having a good time?" the golfer shouted back.
"Of course," said Johnie Imes, the 88-year-old woman who was encouraging all the golfers from a porch near the 18th green. "I get to watch all of you guys play, and the weather is great!"
Imes' presence at the tournament only served to reinforce why the Johnie Imes Invitational is named in her honor. Her passion for the sport and encouragement for the golfers was evident time-and-time again the duration of the two-day event.
The tournament was created and added to the Missouri women's golf schedule three years ago, but Imes has been involved with the program much longer than that.
“We named the tournament after Johnie Imes because she has been very involved with our program for well over 20 years,” MU women’s golf coach Stephanie Priesmeyer said.
Imes wasn’t raised around the sport, but her love of golf was born nearly 60 years ago when she needed something to keep her active personality busy.
Her husband, Elvin Imes, frequently worked 18 to 20 hours a day early in their marriage, so she had a lot of time to learn the game and found that it came fairly easily to her.
Imes moved to Columbia in 1988 and decided to get involved with the MU women's golf program. When she realized the team didn't have enough funds to buy some equipment and attend some tournaments, she decided to do something about it.
Teaming up with friends Bill Toalson and Tom Loyd, Imes helped start a tournament to raise money for the program. In recent years, the tournament has raised more than $25,000 a year for the team.
The women's golf program now has six endowments, something they couldn’t have done without her contributions,Priesmeyer said.
“She’s a dear friend and has been a big supporter of us,” Priesmeyer said. “So we felt it was appropriate to kind of have a cool name for this tournament, ‘The Johnie.’”
A modest Imes didn’t want to take too much credit for her contributions to the program, but she did express appreciation for having a tournament named in her honor.
“One of my favorite things is Missouri women’s golf and all the girls that play on it,” Imes said. “A lot of the girls have become my very close friends, so it is very fun for me to be here.”
Although she recently had surgery on her right knee and was hooked up to an oxygen tank to assist her breathing, Imes wasn't about to miss the fourth annual tournament.
“I think God was trying to tell me to slow down when I got this knee problem,” she said. “But I still had to be out here for this tournament.”
Health problems prevented her from being able to play the game she loves in the past year, but Imes says she still has some ability when she is able to get on the course.
In fact, Imes said she won the last tournament she played in last year, a scramble event that she helped start more than 50 years ago.
“My partner took care of the long shots, and I worked well around the green,” Imes said with a chuckle.
It is clear nothing is going to get in the way of Imes helping others have a good time and having a good time around the golf course herself.
Her immense love for golf was evident in her joyous reactions to every great approach shot and analyzations of every mistake that was made.
“If people are not involved with these sorts of things for young people, they need to get involved,” Imes said. "They would find out how much fun it is and how much satisfaction you can get being with them.”