Editor’s Note: This is part of a summer Q&A series in which every Wednesday sports writer Jared Bell will talk with local people in the sports news.
Tom Clancy couldn’t let it end.
After the NewsTribune ended its area-wide men’s golf tournament in 2008 after nearly 60 years, Clancy stepped up in 2009 and ran a one-round-only Illinois Valley Men’s Golf Championship at his home course in Mendota.
The event went so well that he did it again in 2009 when he restored the tournament to its traditional two-round format.
Ever since, Clancy, family and friends have been behind the scenes as the driving force behind the area’s most popular and largest golf tournament.
Clancy — a 44-year-old La Salle native who was an assistant professional for 10 years at a golf course in Florida — also plays in the tournament in addition to running the event, which is open to anyone from the area.
This year’s IV Men’s Golf Championship begins Sunday with the first round being held at Senica’s Oak Ridge Golf Course and the final round Aug. 4 at Mendota Golf Club.
Players are still welcomed to register but first-round pairings and tee times will run in Thursday’s NewsTribune and throughout the remainder of the week.
Over the weekend, the NewsTribune caught up with Clancy to discuss why he took over the area-wide tournament, the challenges of the event and the tournament’s future.
NewsTribune: Can you talk about the decision to take over the men’s golf tournament and how it came about?
Tom Clancy: When I first heard that the NewsTribune was going to cancel its golf tournament, I thought about it all winter and finally said, ‘(Running the tournament) is something I can do.’ I had a big reason for it because my dad (who is also named Tom Clancy) used to dominate the (NewsTribune) tournament when he was alive. In the 1960s, he won three times in a row and got a lot of seconds and thirds so I couldn’t wait until I was 17 years old to play just because of him.
But when it came about when I could finally take it over, I said, ‘I’m not going to pass this up’ because I wanted to make sure this tournament kept going and wanted to make sure these guys had something to compete for because around here all we usually do is compete in scrambles and play days. This is one of the few tournaments where we can play man on man, you against the golf course. I wanted to make sure it kept going, and I’ve been getting a lot of positive responses from people, which makes it worth it.
NT: Can you talk about the first year and the feedback?
Clancy: The first year I did this it was a last-minute thing. I decided to have the tournament like a month before I did it. I did a one-day tournament, and actually it turned out pretty well. I had over 100 players that first year with just a month’s notice, which was really nice. And it went really smoothly. At that time I said, ‘OK, we’re going back to two days next year and we’re just going to keep it going.’
There was no resistance at all. Everyone kept calling me and thanking me for taking it over, which nobody wanted to do because it’s a lot more work than people really understand. I had great people to help me out, and I already had a lot of golf tournament experience because I was a teaching pro in Florida for 10 years, so I organized hundreds of events.
NT: How has the tournament grown in the five years?
Clancy: I’ve seen the same core players every year. We had a bit of a down year last year with only 60-something players. I’d love to get 140 players but it does get hectic with that many guys, so if we can get around 100 players you can run the tournament pretty smoothly — and I’m hoping to get anywhere from 75-100 players this year.
But I can guarantee that in the future it’s going to grow. I am going to put some new twists and turns in to hopefully make it more fun for people. One of the twists this year, the Senior Class is usually dominated by Willie Hanson and Willie Seremak every year, but this year I’m handicapping the Senior Class so everybody is going to be playing even. Basically, if you shoot an 80 and you’re a 10 handicap then you shot a 70. Everybody is going to play even because we want to make it a little more fun for the seniors. They have been pretty darn excited about it.
NT: When you first started the tournament, what were some of the challenges you faced?
Clancy: I would say not knowing how to go about it. I tried to emulate the way the NewsTribune ran it because I thought the NewsTribune did a really good job for so many years.
The main problem I always run into — and will always continue to run into — is people signing up very late and I have to change everything around. I wish people could sign up a couple of weeks in advance — at the latest — because that would make my life so much easier. However, I understand that it’s just a tournament and that they have family obligations and stuff comes up, but that’s been the hardest thing.
NT: A lot of people see all the day-of-tournament stuff, but can you talk more about all the behind the scenes work?
Clancy: You’ve got to pick up trophies every year and make sure they come in on time. You have to make sure you have the food ordered in time. A few days before the tournament, we sit down for a couple of hours and I try to match people up in the first round kind of according to what they did the last year. I must fill out two or three tee sheets before I get it right. There are also the tee sheets, the skins (game) sheets and getting the 50-50 signs prepared and making sure all the volunteers are ready to go and they are trained and know what they are doing. It’s just a lot of last-second work. It’s usually a pretty hectic Saturday, but by Sunday morning we usually have it pretty well organized with everything packed in the car and ready to go.
We usually get to the course at around 6 a.m. to set up and we’re usually at the course for around 14 hours. Things generally begin to wrap up around 6:30-7 p.m. and then there’s the entire cleanup. It’s hectic but I really enjoy it.
One other neat thing is every time the second round has been at Mendota (like it will be this year), after we’re all done we do a five-hole, one-club tournament that Fred Steele came up with. Anybody who wants to play does and everybody throws in some money. Everybody tees off on the first tee, plays at the same time and has to use the one club to do everything — you putt with it, chip with it, get out of the sand traps with it. It’s a ton of fun.
NT: Every year you donate the profits to a local charity, including this year with the Freedom House. Why do that?
Clancy: One-hundred percent of the profits go to the local charity of choice that year. It’s very important to me to be able to give back. I decided to turn it into a charity event because I didn’t want any profit from this —I wasn’t out to make a dollar — and the charities that I pick are usually near and dear to my heart — usually somebody in my family has gone through it.
My place of work — Fairmount Minerals — usually gives me $1,000 every year to donate, too. Well, this year they have really been sponsoring Freedom House — the battered women’s shelter — so I told them I would make Freedom House the sponsor for them this year.
NT: What are the best and worst parts of running the tournament?
Clancy: The worst part is that you’re exhausted at the end of the day, and then you get a lot of people coming up to you with certain problems, like rulings and groans and moans.
But the absolute best part is the satisfaction when it’s all over and everybody is just sitting around enjoying themselves. I don’t care how well or how badly they played, just seeing the smile at the end of the day makes it worthwhile for me.
NT: How long do you plan to continue to run the tournament?
Clancy: As long as I’m physically able to, I will definitely run it. If I’m 75 years old and I’m still able to run this, I’ll do it!
But I do want to keep it going as long as possible.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.