Around the Green
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Medalist Gulf Coast Series Returns to Greater Houston Area
The Texas Golf Association is excited to announce it is bringing more competitive amateur golf tournaments to the Greater Houston Area with a slate of two-day, 36-hole, individual stroke-play events called the Medalist Gulf Coast Series.
This is not a new series of tournaments, by any means. It had been a popular tour in Houston for two decades. The major change now is the TGA will be conducting these events in conjunction with the other TGA Medalist Series in North Texas and the Hill Country.
Under the previous name of the Medalist Golf Association, this series of tournaments originally launched in 2000 by prominent members of Champions Golf Club in Houston, including Mike Burke, son of legendary Champions Golf Club co-founder Jackie Burke, and Robert McKinney, a longtime amateur stalwart who won the 90th Texas Amateur in 1999. The administrators of the Medalist Golf Association, which grew to include more Champions Golf Club members and others outside of the club, conducted that series through 2020.
“We started this because at the time, there wasn’t a place for the working man to play competitively on the weekends,” Mike Burke said. “There were TGA events, but many of those were played during the week. Then there were qualifiers for the Houston City Amateur. That was about it. Houston needed more competitive golf opportunities.”
Thanks to the Burkes, Champions Golf Club, and now the TGA, that’s exactly what is happening.
The 2023 Medalist Gulf Coast Series begins Feb. 18-19 at the Panorama Golf Club in Conroe. Male golfers with a WHS Handicap Index® of 15.0 or less are eligible to compete. There are no regional restrictions with Medalist events; qualifying golfers from any part of the state can play in any Medalist Series event. The second tournament is March 11-12 at Quail Valley Golf Course’s La Quinta Course in Missouri City. The final Medalist Gulf Coast event this year is April 1-2 at Atascocita Golf Club in Atascocita.
“This has been a long time coming,” said John Cochran IV, the TGA’s South Texas Director of Competitions. “The guys at Champions did a great job with the Medalist Golf Association, and the TGA is honored and excited to use our resources to take these events to a wider audience and new golf courses.”
The TGA’s Medalist Series in the Hill Country and North Texas began in 2006. Those events were largely modeled after the format that Mike Burke, McKinney, and their group of passionate competitive golfers used in Houston. Positioned intentionally at the beginning of the calendar year, Medalist events are a perfect way for golfers to knock off some winter rust and get tuned up for bigger competitions in the spring, summer, and beyond.
At its height, more than 300 Houston-area golfers played in Medalist Golf Association events. The association held a season-ending Tour Championship at Champions Golf Club for the top players based on a point system. It was quite a reward for great play. The top 30 competitors in a season-long points race got to tee it up at Champions, the cathedral of golf in this part of the world that hosted the 1967 Ryder Cup (captained by Ben Hogan), the 1969 U.S. Open, five PGA Tour Championships, and the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open.
Everyone involved with the Medalist Series loved the idea of a Tour Championship event for the leading points earners. So much so, Mike Burke said Champions Golf Club will continue to play host to that season-ending championship. More details on the Tour Championship will be released soon.
Founded in 1957 by Jackie Burke, who in 1956 won the Masters and PGA Championship, and three-time Masters champion Jimmy Demaret, the north Houston club has been synonymous with golf excellence since its inception. In addition to the litany of notable professional events, Champions Golf Club also has played host to the 1993 U.S. Amateur, the 1998 and 2017 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, and the Champions Cup, a longstanding annual two-man team amateur tournament.
“My grandfather was a pro, but for the past 65 years, he’s been working with amateur golfers,” said Dean Burke, Mike Burke’s son and the current president of Champions Golf Club. “He’s all about amateur golf.”
As a young, up-and-coming golfer, Dean Burke played in plenty of Medalist Golf Association events, won a couple of them, and then helped manage the operation. Like his grandfather and father, Dean Burke is fully behind the Medalist Gulf Coast Series.
“With the TGA’s platform, I think it can really take off,” he said.
To wit, the field for first tournament at Panorama Golf Club filled up in less than five days. There’s currently a waiting list to get in. There is still plenty of room in the other two events, however.
TGA President Jonathan Shipley, a member at Champions Golf Club and a former Medalist Golf Association winner, couldn’t be more excited about the developments.
“We finally brought it home with the TGA,” Shipley said. “Now we’re under a bigger banner with more resources and greater reach. It’s going to be great. Mr. Burke has always been about amateur golf and amateur golfers. He was so proud when Champions started our Medalist Golf Association.”
Along with the Tournament of Champions, another facet that will continue is the coveted “Red Headcover.” The brainchild of Mike Burke, he wanted winners in his Medalist Golf Association tournaments to receive something unique, something different than another typical golf trophy. While watching the Tour de France one summer day, seeing the yellow jersey that the current leader wore resonated with him. Burke loved the idea of one rider wearing the yellow jersey because he was leading the tour, and now everyone was chasing him.
“So out on the golf course, everyone is chasing the player with the red headcover,” Burke explained. “The headcover travels from winner to winner, but each winner also receives a replica headcover they get to keep.”
Mike Burke also is responsible for coming up with the unique name of the association. He tells a great story from one year when he played in a Greater Houston City Amateur Monday qualifier.
“I thought I was ready and prepared for that qualifier, but I wasn’t,” he said. “I needed more reps, more tournament rounds. That’s when I started calling the best amateurs in the city and asked them if I started a tour, would they play in it? To a man, they all said yes. So, I needed a name for this proposed tour. At that City Am Monday qualifier, I turned in a score of 77, and man, I was really sweating it out. I didn’t think I played well enough to qualify. That was my only goal: to qualify for the Houston City Am.
“I’m standing there by the scoreboard, and this player walks by on the way to the scoreboard and says, ‘Who was the Medalist?’ This player shot a great score and thought he had a chance to win that qualifier. He did not show up just to qualify; he was trying to win, to be the Medalist. Here I am just trying to keep it together and qualify. This guy wanted to know who was the Medalist. That’s when it hit me. The Medalist is what you want to be. The Medalist is the winner. So that’s what we named our association.”
In addition to the competition and opportunities to get in early season tournament rounds, the camaraderie between players is a major draw to these events, everyone involved agreed. The events basically are scaled-down versions of TGA Championships. It’s serious tournament golf – scorecards are signed and attested, etc. – but it’s a less stressful atmosphere than one would find at a regional or statewide championship.
One of the other perks of the Medalist Gulf Coast Series is getting to experience new places. Andy Hydorn, a former Champions Golf Club member who for years helped Mike Burke, McKinney, and the Medalist Golf Association with numerous logistical, technical, and public relations assistance, believes the opportunity to play a wide variety of golf courses added another layer to the beauty of these events.
“One of the best things the TGA has done for me is introduce me to different parts of the state,” said Hydorn, the runner-up at last summer’s Texas Senior Amateur. “The Medalist Gulf Coast Series will do that for others, too.”
To learn more about the Medalist Gulf Coast Series and register for events, click here.