At first glance, the Kiwanis Columbia Championship is another local tournament. There are tee times, local courses and familiar players, but without an invitation, there is no hope to compete.
The tournament takes place on three courses, including Lake of the Woods and the Country Club of Missouri, beginning today and ending Sunday.
Nine-time champion Dee Sanders, defending champion Dave McDonald and Hickman teammates D.J. Chung and Josh Brady are among those who will compete.
Sanders said the tournament is a grind because players face a tough field for three days.
“I would say it’s a hard tournament because of the caliber of players that are playing,” Chung said. “It’s probably one of the hardest tournaments I’ll play in.”
Seventy-seven players tee off today at A.L. Gustin. The tournament moves to Lake of the Woods on Saturday and the Country Club of Missouri on Sunday.
Although all players received an invitation, most qualified from previous tournaments during the summer, and others are always invited because of their performances in the Championship. After the second day, the tournament makes a cut to the top 40 and ties.
Rex Dillow, tournament chairman, is retiring as the head of the tournament after 30 years.
“I want to get involved in some other some things while I still have the ability to do other things,” Dillow said.
Dillow helped to start the tournament in 1975 when Bill Clark approached him with the idea.
While Dillow steps down, Chung said he feels like this tournament caps off his summer.
“This tournament is in Columbia, everything is winding down and it’s an appropriate close for me,” Chung said.
Brady finds the tournament to be an important one for him.
“It’s the most fun and the most challenging,” Brady said. “It means the most to win this over any juniors or men’s tournament.”
Dillow said he thinks the tournament is popular because the top players in Columbia compete.
Chung, who will be a senior at Hickman, said the Country Club of Missouri will be the hardest course because “there are some holes that you have to have local knowledge to know where to hit the ball.”
“I’ve seen more golfers fall by the wayside leading the tournament, or really challenging, going into the back nine on the last day and blow it,’’ Dillow said. “That back nine can tear them up.”
As the tournament starts, each player has a strategy or concerns.
Brady, who will be a senior at Hickman, said he is more focused now than he has been and is going to focus on every shot and swing.
Sanders said he will have to improve his drives during the tournament.
“I’m playing average right now,” Sanders said. “I’ll have to get better if I’m going to win. If I drive it in the fairways then I’ve got a chance.”
Chung said he is not concerned with his performance.
“I’m hitting the ball well, and everything is coming together,” Chung said.
“Everyone can hit good shots. It’s really a mental game, thinking well for 18 holes and staying focused.”