COLUMBIA — A lot has changed about the Phil Cotton Invitational since Dick Landon played in the second version of the golf tournament with some of his college teammates in 1960.
Despite changing courses a few times and expanding into a two-day tournament with championship and senior divisions, the Phil Cotton remains one of the most popular amateur tournaments in the state while providing a scholarship for one member of the MU golf team.
Landon, who played golf for Mizzou from 1961 to 1963 and also received the first scholarship from the Phil Cotton fund, said that back when the tournament only lasted one day there was a dinner party for the players.
“It was much more formal,” Landon said. “Everybody got on a coat and tie. Now we all kind of just show up here and drink a beer, and eat boiled shrimp and call it a tournament.”
That shouldn’t hurt the competitiveness of the tournament, however.
The tournament, which finishes Sunday at A.L. Gustin Golf Course, features the state’s top amateurs in both the open and senior divisions, as well as current and former members of the Missouri golf team, according to A.L. Gustin head professional Jim Knoesel.
“The field is always really good,” Knoesel said.
After the first round Saturday, Ben Godwin is leading the championship division after shooting a 67, and Jeff Johnson leads the senior division with a 65.
Charlie Diggs Sr. was on hand to watch the action Saturday morning and was also on the original committee that set up the Phil Cotton Invitational in 1959 as a memorial to a Columbia lumber company owner who died unexpectedly that year.
“He was a great athletic sponsor for football, basketball, everything,” Digges Sr. said of Cotton's fondness of MU. “He played a lot of golf, and they wanted to do something in his name so they named the tournament after him.”
The committee also set up a scholarship, which was the first of its kind at the time, for one member of the MU golf team. Digges’ son Charlie Digges Jr. works with the MU athletics department to keep the scholarship program going. There has been enough money in the Phil Cotton fund to support a member of the MU golf team every year since the tournament started, Digges Jr. said.
A.L. Gustin manager Richard Poe oversees the tournament, along with Knoesel, and said the scholarship is an important part of the tournament, which is in its 52nd year.
“Before it, there were no golf scholarships,” Poe said. “I think it’s been very important for the history of University of Missouri golf.”
Poe, who was Landon’s teammate at MU, said the growth of the tournament is a result of the people around it. And Landon said he thinks Poe deserves a lot more credit for keeping the tournament running than he might get.
“He’s really kind of held it together,” Landon said of Poe. “People can’t really appreciate how much he’s done over the years.”
“You’ve got the best high school players, the best amateurs, and the best seniors,” Poe said. “That’s really the beauty of the tournament.”
Digges Sr. said he likes to watch the same guys who have been playing it since the beginning, and now see some of their children playing in it too.
“It’s a nice mixture, and the people enjoy coming,” Poe said.
Landon, who missed the first year and a few later tournaments while he served in the army, said he enjoys coming to see Poe fellow teammate Topper Glass each year at the tournament and seeing how Poe has transformed the course. Landon, Poe and Glass where on the first MU team to play at A.L. Gustin, and when they first started only three holes were playable, Landon said.
“When we started out on this golf course, you could barely play it,” Landon said. “It was just brutal.”
The tournament moved from Columbia Country Club to Country Club of Missouri when Poe was the head professional there, and now to A.L. Gustin.
“For me it’s nice to come play the Gustin because, for us, it has memories,” Landon said.
“We had a bunch of guys who just really had a good time. We enjoyed each other, had a good time playing golf with each other.”
Digges Jr. agreed.
“I enjoy the people. I enjoy the guys we play with. And I enjoy getting to see guys like Dick Landon and Topper Glass. I enjoy getting to see the best high school players. That’s the most fun, getting to see the people, and I think that’s why they come back year after year.”