You probably didn't notice, but something rather tragic happened
last week at the Greater Greensboro Open: The GGO lost its O.
One of the oldest stops on the circuit is now known as the
Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic, a nod to fiscal realities.
Not all has been lost, however. The--cough, cough--GGCC may have
pawned its only vowel, but the tournament has hardly sold its
soul. After 58 years it's still a homespun event that belongs
more to the good people of Greensboro than to the corporate
machinery of the Tour. More than ever, Greensboro, N.C.,
deserves its nickname as the Green Bay of golf, a tribute to a
little town that has made good on the national stage of
"This tournament and this city have grown up together," says Jim
Melvin, the GGO's general chairman in 1963 and later
Greensboro's mayor for 10 years. "It's woven into the fabric of
our community. You could even say that the GGO is Greensboro."
Greensboro couldn't have picked a more appropriate champion than
Mark O'Meara, who held off Duffy Waldorf by two shots on Sunday
to earn his second victory of the year with a 14-under 274. Born
in Goldsboro, N.C., 150 miles east of Greensboro, O'Meara is
low-key, friendly and often overlooked, just like the GGCC.
With the $324,000 winner's check, O'Meara tiptoed to second on
this year's money list at $868,468, two grand behind Fred
Couples. He also sneaked into the top 10 on the alltime money
list, with $6,994,933 in career earnings. These gaudy numbers
will probably come as a shock to casual fans. On Sunday evening
even O'Meara seemed a little surprised. "When I won my first
tournament, in 1984, I didn't know if there was ever going to be
another," he said. "So I have to say I'm proud of the way I
played this week, just as I'm always proud when I win. I don't
take any of this for granted. In fact, it's still flattering to
me every time a fan recognizes me on the street."
May 5, 1996
Presumably that's going to be happening more often, because
O'Meara is one of the hottest players in golf. Last year he won
two tournaments and set a career high with more than $900,000 in
winnings. O'Meara, 38, kicked this year off with a win at the
Mercedes Championships and has had five top-six finishes since,
including Sunday's win and a second the week before last in the
MCI Heritage Classic.
Still, recognition has been slow to come to the 16-year vet,
although he's hardly pulling his hair out about it. (On the
contrary, he recently signed on with Rogaine.) O'Meara merely
files away every snub for motivation. "The ultimate test in this
game is winning, not endorsement dollars or the Sony World
Ranking," he says, acknowledging two yardsticks by which he
comes up short.
To fully appreciate the GGCC, it's also necessary to take a long
view. The tournament was started in 1938 by a group of
enterprising Jaycees eager to make a name for the town (not to
mention its booming textile industry). They solicited $25
contributions from Greensboro's leading citizens, and
considerably more from its businesses, to secure the first-year
purse of $5,000.
Played over three days at two country clubs--Sedgefield and
Starmount Forest--the tournament was an immediate success. A
brash 25-year-old hillbilly named Sam Snead won by three
strokes, the first kiss in a 38-year romance with the city and
the tournament, and a considerable number of the town's 77,107
citizens turned out to cheer him on. Local interest in golf had
been piqued in 1936 when Sedgefield's head pro Tony Manero won
the U.S. Open at Baltusrol in one of golf's alltime shockers.
Still, it was unclear how this rural crowd would cotton to a
country-club game. But that first Sunday produced "the largest
crowd ever seen at a golf tournament," wrote Arch Murray in the
New York Post, and the Greensboro Daily News had this to say:
"Everyone should be proud of the manner in which the galleries
acted. There were only a few who insisted on walking through the
Two of the next three winners were Ben Hogan (1940) and Byron
Nelson ('41), and the GGO rolled on from there, interrupted only
by the war in 1943 and '44. The tournament continued to benefit
from spirited leadership of the Jaycees and the presence of such
stars as Art Wall, Julius Boros and Arnold Palmer, each of whom
lived or had gone to college nearby. Snead, however, was the one
who splashed Greensboro's dateline on sports pages across the
country. He won seven of the first 21 tournaments, including the
1960 GGO at age 47. He brought the tournament added prestige by
often calling it his favorite and Greensboro his second home.
Snead spent off-seasons hunting with many of his buddies from
the town, and he made a habit of winning the pretournament
fishing contest with Carson Bain, the 1950 tournament chair.
It was fitting, then, that the 1965 GGO was dedicated to Snead
in honor of his 25th appearance at the tournament. Snead repaid
the hospitality the best way he knew how, smoking the field for
a stunning five-stroke victory and his eighth title, a record
for wins in one event. In the process he became the oldest man
ever to win a Tour event: 52 years, 10 months, eight days. "The
only explanation," says Bain, "is divine intervention."
Snead's record-setting win was important to the evolution of the
GGO, but just as significant was the roast in his honor that had
preceded the first round, a to-do for which Ed Sullivan was
wheeled in from New York. "It was the biggest social event
Greensboro had seen," says Irwin Smallwood, who covered the GGO
from 1948 to 1988 for the Greensboro News & Record, and its
predecessor, the Daily News. "Ever since then the tournament has
been such a fashionable happening." So much of the GGO's appeal
is that it remains the community's one big party each year, the
celebration that kicks off spring. "The energy here is not like
most golf tournaments," says Waldorf. "It's more like a NASCAR
The 17th hole at Forest Oaks Country Club, where the tournament
has been played since 1977, is especially renowned for its rowdy
stock-car-race ambience, though the mood has mellowed since a
beer cart was banished from the area a few years back. The green
at this 188-yard par-3 is framed by bleachers and two towering
corporate boxes, and a tournament staple has been for fans to
lay wagers on the golfers as they pass through. "Playing that
hole's always a kick," says Jay Don Blake, 48th place this year.
"There's high stakes on every shot--if not for yourself, then at
least for the fans." During a practice round Fuzzy Zoeller once
teed up a driver and sent a ball screaming over the bleachers,
much to the delight of the crowd. In another practice-round
tribute to the spectators, Vance Heafner played the 17th while
wearing one of those hats with a beer can mounted atop it.
The buzz this year was about the par-4 7th, where third-round
playing partners Keith Fergus and Waldorf dunked consecutive
shots from the fairway for matching eagles. They celebrated with
a sloppy but enthusiastic two-handed high five, the kind of
unchecked glee that the GGCC promotes.
Because the event gives so much to Greensboro--last year's
tournament raised a whopping $1.8 million, much of which was put
toward charitable works in the community--it is not surprising
that Greensboro gives back. During the first round this year, a
lost wallet was returned to tournament headquarters, with all
$500 still in it. The next day a misplaced money clip was
dropped off, with all $45 still there.
Of course, $545 was more than Ralph Guldahl or Paul Runyan made
for tying for third place in 1938. To keep up with the
prize-money wars, the tournament took on K Mart as a sponsor in
1988, and Chrysler came on board this year. Only two regular
Tour stops offer more than the GGCC's $1.8 million purse. Even
so, coming on the heels of the Players Championship, the Masters
and Hilton Head, Greensboro has in recent years become a week
during which many top players take a holiday. This year Greg
Norman and Nick Faldo jilted the tournament after previously
committing to play for the first time since 1989.
The tournament should get a boost from trumpeting O'Meara as
defending champ, particularly if his star continues to rise.
Then again, the folks around Greensboro don't seem particularly
concerned about such matters. They know that the GGO--make that
the GGCC--has secured its good name. Says Melvin, "From the very
beginning, this tournament has been about bettering the city of
Greensboro and bettering the game of golf. We've managed to do