Steamboat Springs Paul Thayer and Hank Kashiwa decided to start a local golf tournament while riding up the gondola one winter afternoon in 1974.
At the time, Kashiwa was the Steamboat ski pro and Thayer was President of the LTV Aerospace Corp. that purchased the ski mountain in 1969. Thayer also owned the Sheraton and an 18-hole golf course suitable to host such an event.
Thayer and Kashiwa both enjoyed golf, and, along with the assistance of Doak Walker, the 1948 Heisman Trophy winner, and CBS sports analyst Vern Lundquist, the four used their contacts in the sport and business worlds to bring together a wide array of tournament participants in the inaugural year.
"It was a heck of a tournament," Kashiwa said.
The tournament later fell into the hands of Walker and Lundquist before earning its current title the Ski Town USA Golf Classic, which it has held for the past five years.
Several things remain constant: The tournament is always played on the Sheraton course and Thayer is almost a guaranteed participant. He believes he has missed eight tournaments in the event's 28-year history.
On Saturday, the 82-year-old former pilot and president took to the Sheraton course surrounded by mountains he adores.
"He's the biggest celebrity in town this weekend," Kashiwa said.
Utilizing both the Sheraton Steamboat and Catamount Ranch & Club courses this year, a record 224 golfers played 36 holes apiece to help raise funds benefiting the Doak Walker Care Center, GrandKids Childcare Center, the Doak Walker Memorial Endowment Fund Scholarship and the Steamboat Rotary's commitment to the enrichment of youth and senior programs in the community.
"This is a good opportunity to give back to the community in ways we are not always able to," Catamount golf pro Tom Taylor said.
It's a way for Thayer to give back to a town he holds in high regard as well. LTV Recreational Development Inc. sold the ski mountain to Northwest Colorado Ski Corp. in 1979, but Thayer, a Dallas resident, continues vacationing and playing golf on its land.
"The one I hated to sell the most was Steamboat Springs," Thayer said. "I've had a love affair with Steamboat for some time."
She responded in kind this year for the most part. Rain fell off and on during both Friday's and Saturday's rounds, but it did little to dampen spirits. In fact, the showers couldn't even extinguish David Steinberg's cigar.
Steinberg, Thayer's son-in-law, was a late fill to the foursome that also included Jeff Giarraputo and three-time Olympian Todd Lodwick. Kashiwa experienced travel delays and Jim "Moose" Barrows decided not to play.
For the first time in the event's history the format was a 1-2-3, net best ball. Every man or woman played his or her own ball, and the best score on a Par 5 counted towards the team score, while the top two and three scores were used on the Par 4 and Par 3 holes, respectively.
It seemed to be popular with the featured foursome. The men thought they were in running for the overall title, and while they exchanged jokes and good-humored jabs between every shot, once it came time to hit, it was all business. Lodwick helped his teammates read every putt.
"It's fun to have something different each year," Sheraton golf pro Gary Crawford said.
Tournaments are often missed opportunities for members to golf, and Crawford acknowledged that some members at both Catamount and Sheraton were likely displeased. But tournaments have a place on the golf calendar.
"It's another source of income for the golf course," Crawford said. "Part of what we do is put on tournaments. It's a necessary evil."
Cost to enter the Ski Town USA Golf Classic was $475 per person or $450 if a foursome registered together. While some money is generated through entrance fees, a majority of the funds raised through the largest golf tournament of the year came from Friday's silent and live auctions.
Crawford said a Caribbean cruise on a 122-foot yacht went for $36,000.
But the chance to watch and listen to Thayer, Lodwick, Steinberg and Giarraputo proved priceless.
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