BLOOMINGTON — The 3-iron that Horace Soper used during the early years of the Bloomington-Normal Men's City Golf Tournament will be on display for this year's centennial celebration of the event.
Golfers can admire, but not take a swing. However, they will be able to take their best shot at playing a historic venue that once was a regular tourney host but hasn't been used since 1963.
The Bloomington-Normal City Match Play Tournament — still called the City Tournament by many veterans — returns to Bloomington Country Club to celebrate its 100-year anniversary.
After qualifying at Weibring Golf Club at Illinois State on June 9, the low 31 qualifiers and defending champion Mike Cushing will play all their championship flight matches at BCC.
"I think it's a great idea for 100 years," said five-time champion Brad Barker, a BCC member. "It (the golf course) is spectacular."
It won't be just the championship flight playing at BCC, either. Those in other flights who win their first two matches at Weibring Golf Club move to BCC for their semifinal and final matches.
Sign-up for the June 9 qualifying begins Saturday at Weibring Golf Club. Entry fee is $100, which covers greens fees for every round (carts not included) and prize fund. There will be a senior division for those 55 and older.
Golfers will receive a commemorative 100th anniversary coin, courtesy of BCC member Jeff Tinervin and First Site Apartments, when they tee off in qualifying.
Amateur men eligible to play must live or work full-time in McLean County, belong to a McLean County club or course or El Paso Golf Club, or be retired from a Bloomington-Normal business with 20-plus years of service and at least 55 years old. Golfers also must be at least 13 years old.
Bloomington-Normal Golf Association commissioner Mike Henry wanted to do something special for the centennial anniversary. With the help of Cushing, a BCC member, they got the club's permission to serve as host for matches.
"We wanted to be part of the history of the 100th anniversary of the Match Play," said BCC professional Jim Miller. "It played a big role in the club way back in the day when they hosted and we've had a lot of former champions from here."
While BCC hasn't been part of the Match Play or City Tournament in 55 years, the final round of the Medal Play has been contested every year at the club since 2003.
This is a big summer for BCC, which will serve as host to the Illinois State Amateur for the record eighth time on July 17-19.
BCC underwent a renovation of its bunkers last fall and has put in new, longer tee boxes on Nos. 10, 11, 16 and 17 that stretch the course's length to about 6,700 yards.
"We're happy to support the golf community and Central Illinois, and whatever we can do to help out we're happy to do," said Miller.
What would make Henry happy is to see golfers taking advantage of this rare opportunity to not only play BCC, but in a tournament setting.
The Match Play field has fallen to 50 players or less the last several years. Henry understands the Medal Play having a bigger field because it's held on the weekend and doesn't require taking time off work.
"We're extremely appreciative of Jim and the club and Mike and everyone who has helped allow us come out here and make it a special event," said Henry, the 2016 champion. "It's not often you deal with a centennial."
Fittingly a BCC member, Gordon Shepherd took a 4 and 3 victory over John Scouller in the championship match when BCC last hosted in 1963. Shepherd also won in 1958 at Highland Park.
The 66-year-old Barker is the only golfer to win the title in four different decades (1972, 1986, 1987, 1991, 2003). While he isn't planning on a five-decade celebration, Barker believes he and other BCC members will have a slight advantage.
"For anyone who has played here on a regular basis it should be easier," said Barker. "There's a lot of local knowledge here. I've only played here a thousand times."
Soper won the City Tournament the first five years it was played from 1918-1922. His 3-iron was donated to the BNGA this winter by Rick Weber, whose late father, Phil, was a renowned golf club collector in Bloomington.
The club was made by Tom Stewart Jr. in St. Andrews, Scotland, and has Stewart’s mark (a clay pipe) and his trademark. Stewart was the clubmaker to the elite players of his day, including Bobby Jones, Old and Young Tom Morris and Francis Quimet.
"Soper’s 3-iron was the equivalent of a Scotty Cameron putter today," wrote Rick Weber in a letter to Henry. "He used the best equipment of his time."
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