Young golfers crowded the putting green, waiting for their chance to step up to the tee box Wednesday afternoon.
There were burgers and hot dogs sizzling on the grill, and the excitement of the annual Cowboy Shootout filled the air at the Steamboat Golf Club. It was the perfect day for junior golf.
But something was missing.
For more than 10 years, Bill Nickey was the master of junior golf at the Steamboat Golf Club. Every summer he taught junior golfers the importance of etiquette, the short game and putting. He also stressed the importance of having a good time.
He helped start the Cowboy Shootout, and without his dedication and enthusiasm, the tournament would not have survived all these years.
But Wednesday, for the first time in the tournament's history, Nickey was not on hand to witness the event. Organizers said Nickey has left the Steamboat area because of health problems, including a stroke several years ago, and returned to Pennsylvania, where he spent most of his years before coming to Steamboat Springs.
Nickey may be gone, but his influence on golf in Steamboat is still felt.
Wednesday's Cowboy Shootout was a perfect example of the influence his dedication has had in Steamboat. His impact is seen in the large number of top juniors that continue to come out of the area. I know many of them have come through other local junior golf programs, but a lot of those players got their first taste of competition in this tournament or in one of Nickey's programs.
In all my years as a sports reporter, I've met very few people who have matched Nickey's enthusiasm for golf, or any other sport for that matter. Junior tournaments were rare when the Cowboy Shootout started, and Nickey made sure his tournament was well run and, more importantly, that the juniors who entered it had a good time.
It was the type of event that brought players back year after year and helped Nickey spread his enthusiasm for the game to a new generation of players.
It's sad to think Nickey may never return to the lush fairways and smooth greens of the Steamboat Golf Club. But his contributions to our community, including his enthusiasm for the Cowboy Shootout, will help shape our valley for years to come.
For anyone who knew Bill and his love for the game of golf, there always will be something missing at the Cowboy Shootout. But he doesn't have to be on the course or sitting on the clubhouse deck to spread his love of the game to local juniors. They can share that feeling simply by picking up a club and hitting a golf ball.
That's the reason Nickey started the Cowboy Shootout more than 10 years ago, and one of the reasons the tournament will always be an important part of summer in Steamboat Springs.