Around the Green

The latest golf-related news, notes, and feature stories from the TGA.

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.

Around the Green

The latest golf-related news, notes, and feature stories from the TGA.

85th Texas Senior Amateur Set for Sept. 9-11

Champions Golf Club in Houston will be the host site for the 85th Texas Senior Amateur, the third of this year’s four men’s major amateur championships conducted by the Texas Golf Association. The championship, which features the state’s top amateur golfers aged 55 and older, will be contested on the Jackrabbit Course from Sept. 9-11.

This will be the first Texas Senior and sixth overall TGA championship held at Champions. The 2016 Texas Shootout was the most recent TGA championship played at the historic club.

“We are incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to return to such a special place as Champions Golf Club,” said Justin Guthrie, TGA Tournament Director. “Champions has been a proud supporter of the game at all levels, and we look forward to working together with the members and staff to provide a truly memorable experience for the players.”

Champions Golf Club was founded in 1957 by World Golf Hall of Fame members Jack Burke Jr. and the late Jimmy Demaret. Located approximately 20 miles northwest of downtown Houston, Champions features 36 holes that weave through a rolling landscape of tall pine trees, creeks, and waterways. Designed by Ralph Plummer, the Cypress Creek Course opened in 1959, followed by the Jackrabbit Course designed by George Fazio, which opened in 1964. Tom Fazio, George’s nephew, supervised a renovation of the Jackrabbit Course in 2002. Chet Williams led a renovation of the Cypress Creek Course in 2018.

Over the years, Champions has acquired a well-earned reputation as one of the nation’s most esteemed tournament venues. The club has played host to five USGA championships in its 65-year history, including the 1969 U.S. Open, 1993 U.S. Amateur, 1998 and 2017 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur, and the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open. In addition, Champions has also been the site of many other prominent events, including the 1967 Ryder Cup, five PGA Tour Championships, the Houston Champions International (now the Houston Open) between 1966-71, the Southern Amateur in 1973 and 1980, as well as the annual Champions Cup Invitational.

“Champions has an illustrious golf history, and it is an honor for us to be a part of it,” Guthrie said. “The players are excited about getting the chance to showcase their skills on the renowned Jackrabbit Course, which is an outstanding test of golf and the ideal stage for what is sure to be a great championship.”

First played in 1937, the Texas Senior Amateur is open to male amateurs who have a WHS Handicap Index® of 6.4 or less, will have reached the age of 55 on or before the tournament start date, and are current Texas residents.

The format for the championship is 54 holes of individual stroke play. The starting field of 144 golfers play two rounds on Sept. 9-10. At the completion of the 36 holes, the field is cut to the low 54 scores and ties for the final round.

Defending champion Gary Durbin of Houston, who also is a longtime member of the host club, heads the list of the elite senior amateurs who will convene at Champions. Durbin captured his second Texas Senior Amateur last year with rounds of 71-70-75 at Westwood Golf Club in Houston. Durbin, who will look to be the first to win back-to-back titles in over 20 years, also won the 2019 championship at Deerwood Club in Kingwood.

Seven other past champions will join Durbin in the starting field, including John Derrick of Waco (who won in 2020), Lewis Stephenson of Mansfield (2016, ’18), Ed Brooks of Fort Worth (2017), Mike Booker of The Woodlands (2015), Mike Peck of Irving (2013), Chuck Palmer of Dallas (2012), and John Grace of Fort Worth (2010).

Live scoring updates and daily recaps, as well as tee times and pairings, will be available on the TGA website once the action gets underway from Champions Golf Club.