Young players breathe new life into Women's County Am
ONALASKA, WI - Most people roll their eyes and utter a snide remark such as “Is that all? Wow! Why even have it?" Yes, there are only 18 players entered in Saturday’s 22nd annual La Crosse County Women's Amateur Golf Championship as presented by Pepsi-Cola of La Crosse at the Golf Club at Cedar Creek in Onalaska. While 18 total players is slim by any tournament standard, only 10 women entered last year, including only two in Championship Flight. Saturday's Championship Flight boasts eight players along with 10 in the Low Net Flight, two more than in 2019. As director of the County Amateurs for 30 years, I admit 18 is a far cry from the very first Women's tournament in 1996, when a groundswell of 66 players proved they deserved a County Amateur as much as the full 200-player Men's County Amateur. That was then and then is now, particularly for the women. Entries dropped steadily from the first year to 2011 when lack of player interest forced the County Am Board of Directors to suspend the event. Young players begged for a restart, so the Board resumed the 18-hole tournament in 2013 with Alli Plath becoming a two-time champion. This year's tournament has a nice mix of ages from 17 to 78. The youngest, Amber Nguyen, from Onalaska, is playing in her first "adult tournament," she told me recently. Nguyen joins defending champion Annie Balduzzi, 19, and Sydney Hubbard, 21, in the final threesome. Hubbard says Nguyen is a great reminder of the fresh new group of girls entering the field and the impact they will have on women's golf in the Coulee Region and beyond. Hubbard, a two-time winner, is also pleased to see a 44 percent increase in total entries. It's a start. "I am so happy to hear the numbers are up this year," she said. "What I love most about this tournament, and why I couldn't wait to play in it, is that it's a way for women of all ages to come together, appreciate golf and advocate for little girls in our community to pick up a club. I live for that." Well said, Sydney. Now if we could only get more recruiting help from high school golf coaches - both girls and boys.
We must listen to understand today's youth
We can learn a lot from today's youth if we only take time to listen. A bright, young man proved that to me recently. Jackson Bonsall (pictured) is from from West Salem. Jackson, 13, is quite a fisherman. In fact, he caught the first "keeper" sunfish of the day off Ol' Tom's boathouse the day we met. Jackson is a friend of "Junior," Ol' Tom's son, who took over the boathouse after his dad passed away a little more than five years ago. Junior and I fish off the boathouse at least once a week. We usually catch enough fish for the fry pan, but have had relatively poor success this summer. However, Jackson had the magic touch during his first time on the boathouse. While Junior and I don't really care how many fish we catch, it's refreshing to welcome a new face and voice into our morning bull sessions reminiscing about our good old days hunting and fishing together. Junior and I did more listening than talking for a change. Needless to say, we learned quite a bit about our new fishing friend. We learned Jackson, an eight grader at West Salem this fall, is also quite an athlete, enjoying a very successful summer baseball season on the West Salem youth team. He is an all-around athlete, but enjoys baseball the best. Jackson is also well-versed in all sorts of sports whether it's high school, college or pro levels. We also learned Jackson enjoys fishing on Lake Neshonoc in West Salem where his grandparents have a lakeside cabin and dock. Jackson told us he often catches enough panfish and catfish right off the dock. After visiting with Jackson for a couple of hours, I realized why some older people don't understand or appreciate our general youth population of today. They simply won't take time to listen. Those same adults can make all the negative remarks they want about today's youth, but Jackson definitely left me walking away with a positive feeling. Thanks, Jackson. Hurry back. You're welcome anytime. You brightened our day.
La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway manager the eternal optimist
WEST SALEM, WI - Chuck Deery's glass is always half-full, never half-empty. In the 33 years I've known the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway manager, he is ever so positive, no matter what is thrown his way. Managing a race track is a tough business because it depends on the weather, which hasn't been kind to the Coulee Region for the last few years. Chuck (pictured) is forced to change gears at any time, any day. Racing, nationwide, has also taken a huge hit in the past decade or more. Yet, Chuck, the eternal optimist, comes up with something new and unique to keep the turnstiles churning. Now, it's the worldwide coronavirus pandemic causing an abrupt interruption to our normal living. That includes Deery, who announced late Friday that the 2020 season opener has been pushed back to Saturday afternoon May 30. With Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ extending the “stay at home” mandate until May 26, it forced the speedway to miss the May 16 originally scheduled oval track opener. “We are treating this as though we lost the first two events to the weather and will pick up our schedule from there,” Chuck said. “There is no point to dwell on the disappointing news from Gov. Evers. Instead, we think this extra time will allow the teams to get better prepared for an exciting and competitive season, and when the first green flag waves, we'll be ready and so will the teams.” Typical Chuck Deery, always looking at the bright side, always finding a ray of sun among the dark clouds. The May 30 event will see the Kwik Trip Late Models and Lawnkeepers Sportsmen competing on the 5/8-mile oval. The quarter-mile action track will see the Auto Value Hobby Stocks, A.N.T.S. Pest Control Hornets and the Mountain Dew Mini Vans battle it out for those valuable track points. Plus, it is the annual early season “Buck Night”. Buck Night (or “Buck Day” in this case) is when all concession items are just $1 and cold beer is $2. The event is being presented by Old Dutch Foods. Gates will open at 12:30 and the first race will be at 2 p.m. Adults are $13.50, Students (12-17) $7, kids (6-11) $4. Children 5 and under are free. For more information, schedule of events and other interesting fun facts, visit the Speedway’s website at www.lacrossespeedway.com. or call us at 608-786-1525. Good luck, Chuck! See you there.
Squib, we tip our golf caps to you
Our La Crosse County Amateur Golf Championships lost a longtime family member last week. Margaret “Squib” Olsen went to eternal heaven on Wednesday, April 29, after a long battle with cancer. Squib was our head rules official for the Men's, Women's, Seniors and Juniors County Amateurs from 1991 through 2013. She also was the first-ever woman to become County Am chairman in 1996 and was a longtime board member. Yet, Squib was so much more than that. She was a friend to everyone she met. Always smiling and upbeat even in the most difficult times, Squib could always find a ray of sunshine peeking through dark clouds from above. That was just her way. Oh sure, Squib was a fierce competitor, but she had to be growing up as the youngest of six children to Earling and Mildred (Rosenow) Olsen. She was born July 23, 1950. The Olsens lived in tiny Galesville, WI. She was given the nickname “Squib” as a youngster, by her oldest brother, Jerry. There was a character in a book that reminded him of her, a little spit-fire tomboy. Squib enjoyed all sports, especially when she was called up to fill in on the Galesville boys baseball team, and showed them how well a girl could hit and pitch. It was a time when there were no organized sports for girls. That didn't prevent Squib from tucking her braided red hair under her over-sized baseball cap. Squib ran, hit, threw, pitched and made all sorts of defensive plays from the infield that left boys and men asking, "Who is this kid anyway?" Squib was not only an all-star in baseball, she was an even better golfer. Graduating from Gale-Ettrick High School in 1968, Squib became a household name in Coulee Region golf circles. She captured the Western Wisconsin Women's Amateur in ‘69 and ‘70, playing her first tournament round barefoot because neither she nor her parents could afford golf shoes. In the mid 1970’s, Squib's budding golf journey took her to California where she won four tournaments on the Women’s Professional Golf Tour from 1976-79. One great thrill in California was breaking LPGA Hall of Famer Mickey Wright’s course record with a 5-under-par 68, while winning the Visalia Open in Visalia, CA. In 1978, Squib won three WPGT tournaments and cashed $7,000. When Squib wasn't golfing on the WPGT and trying to reach her lifetime dream of qualifying for the LPGA Tour, she was teaching the game to young and old alike while living and working in Palm Desert, Ca. It was a different lifestyle Squib wasn't familiar with, especially playing a round with PGA golf legend Arnold Palmer once. Yet, Squib missed her roots in the Coulee Region, especially hometown Galesville, hailed as the Garden of Eden. Squib returned to Wisconsin in 1990 to become assistant pro at Cedar Creek Country Club in Onalaska. From there she went to Drugan's Castle Mound Golf Course in Holmen as head pro for seven more years before becoming executive director of the Three Rivers Golf Association for 14 years. All the while, Squib lived in her childhood home, helping take care of her mother, tending to her gardens and visiting with lifelong neighbors. Squib's sister, Ruth, cared for her the last 6½ years during her battle with cancer. Squib was preceded in death by her parents and brother Jerry. She is survived by sisters Carol, Dee and Ruth and brother LDO, along with many nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews and four great, great nephews. Squib's obituary stated,"She is also survived by YOU, her amazing friends and golfing family. She was tremendously grateful for all the kindness and compassion from all of you through her tournament of life." Jackie and Bruce Kaiser, associate directors for the County Amateur since Squib was forced to leave when diagnosed with cancer, echoed what many people feel. "She was an amazing person who grew the game of golf in the area, mainly through her work with juniors," said Jackie. "She was someone the young golfers loved. Our son, Jeff, respected her so much and learned a lot from her about how to handle yourself on and off the course." Bruce added, "Her way of advising County Am golfers about rules concerns was something to see. She was kind and understanding, but firm about the integrity of the game. Coulee Region golf sure will miss her." As executive director of the County Amateurs since 1991, I will always remember Squib as the "straw that stirred the drink." Here's an everlasting toast to my friend, one of the Coulee Region's greatest gifts to golf.
Closing golf courses makes no sense
Without being political, I'm still scratching my head as to why Wisconsin's governor closed down state golf courses? I understand he may not believe a golf course is an "essential business," although I firmly believe all courses - public and private - should be open for several reasons. Golf course operators have gone to great lengths to make sure social distance is paramount. They raised golf cups so there is no need to reach into cups to retrieve balls and no need to touch flagsticks. Rakes have been removed from bunkers. No power carts are allowed. No cash is exchanged. Payments are made through credit or debit cards only. Clubhouses are closed. No food or beverage is available. Come on. What else? Case in point. The governor issued his COVID-19 Emergency Order No. 12 on March 24, with the "Safer At Home" order from 8 a.m., March 25, to 8 a.m., April 24, shutting down non-essential businesses, including golf courses. Nonetheless, Trempealeau Mountain Golf Club decided to open last Friday after receiving approval from the Trempealeau County Sheriff’s Dept., and Trempealeau County Health Dept. I drove up to Trempealeau Mountain that afternoon. The course was busy with more than 120 players on the tee sheet. I observed golfers in FULL COMPLIANCE with the strict guidelines approved by the Trempealeau Sheriffs Dept., and Trempealeau Health Dept. Golfers were simply delighted to kick off another season. Later that day, I was notified the course was forced to shut down. What a shame. Trempealeau Mountain isn't the only local course anxious to open or re-open this spring. Operators at Forest Hills Golf Course in La Crosse, The Golf Club at Cedar Creek in Onalaska and Drugan's Castle Mound Country Club in Holmen are among many throughout the state anxious to hear their cash registers ring. I haven't found a good reason why they can't hear that sound... sooner rather than later.