Famous Wisconsin tournament celebrates 50-year finale

By Mike Tighe
Published on

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Competition to avoid the final Booby Prize in favor of the winner's cup will be intense Saturday when 10 to 12 players tee it up for the last time in a 50-year-old La Crosse golf tournament in which fun always has been above par.

Bob McLoone of La Crosse founded the tournament, which has included 108 people over the years, and attributes the name of the Booby Open to a legal eagle.

McLoone, who will be 78 on June 18, golfed with several others, including attorney Robert Smyth Sr., after graduating from Marquette University and picking up the family membership of his late parents at what then was the La Crosse Country Club.

"He called me Booby," McLoone said of Smyth. "He also called me Bobby Crunch-ass -- you can't put that in the paper -- because I played only with a 4 wood (for driving), and I hit the ball a long way."

When McLoone started the tournament at what now is Forest Hills Golf Club and he and his wife, Pat, began hosting its annual buffet award dinner at their home, "We called it the Booby Open," McLoone explained. "At first, the guys and the gals both played. The gals played through 46 years."

McLoone's sister Ann Rand uses her pottery skills to craft the mugs for the top prizes -- white for the women and green for the men, in the tradition of the green jackets that winners of the Masters Tournament at Augusta (Ga.) National receive.

In addition to mugs for low net and low gross were traveling trophies -- typical honors for putting, driving and other side events; prizes for McLoone's various guessing contests; and, of course, the Crunch-ass Award for the player whose drives were most impressive, said McLoone, who retired in 1998 after more than a 40-year teaching career in Onalaska and La Crescent-Hokah public schools.

Winners treasure the mugs, said 75-year-old Dave Litzow, who has played in the Booby Open for almost 40 years and won a mug once.

"I bring it to every party," said Litzow, a retired orthodontist who practiced in La Crosse for 40 years and now does so part time in Fond du Lac. "Bobby did everything right, and you wanted to win a mug.

"I used to say I was the Avis of this tournament, because I finished second in seven," he said, laughing.

Not so lucky has been retired Dr. George Ellenz of La Crosse, who said he hasn't won the tournament outright but has been victorious in a couple of individual and team events.

"I've also been guilty of winning the Booby Prize," Ellenz said, noting that that trophy features a golfer whose body is contorted into an impossible posture.

"Bobby has just a wonderful event," said Ellenz, 91, whose health has prevented him from playing for the past three years but who will attend the post-tourney cocktail and dinner party at the McLoones' with his wife, Margaret.

"You're trying very hard to win, but having a beverage and a great meal afterward" more than compensates for errant shots," Ellenz said. "Pat and Bobby have to be commended for putting on a great event.

"The things Bobby and Pat have done even for the non-golfers, like a contest to guess the number of beans in a jar, are great fun," he said. "They're A-plus people, and we're just happy to be included."

Litzow, who plans to play Saturday and attend the party with his wife, Joanne, echoes the praise.

The field has repersented "an amazing landscape of La Crosse golfers -- good, bad and mediocre," said Litzow, who describes himself as "a mediocre golfer with a fantastic love of the game."

Formerly boasting a handicap as low as 10, Litzow lamented, "Now, all of a sudden, it's 20."

"An interesting award is the Crunch-ass Award," Litzow said. "If you won the Crunch-ass, you may not be the best player, but you can hit. Bobby was a big hitter -- not necessarily a great player, but he hit it a ton."

The McLoones' children also took to the game, with oldest son Michael being a former Illinois amateur champion, son Charles now being a golf pro in Florida and son Mark in Colorado being an assistant golf superintendent.

Asked whether his tutelage fueled their talents, McLoone said, "They say it did, but I don't know how much I helped."

Daughter Mary Ryan and her husband, Scott, will help with the buffet dinner, as they have for 20 years.

Preceding the dinner, attendees gather for cocktails in the backyard of the home where the McLoones have lived for 51 years. They live a golf shot or two up the hill southeast of Forest Hills -- depending on whether you're a Crunch-ass hitter or a duffer and whether you can clear the trees or have to play around them.

The basic fare of Canadian bacon and chicken salad has been the same for 50 years, a menu Litzow characterizes as "delicious." During the Booby Open's five-decade run, only one player, longtime local golf guru Chuck Redel, has made a hole-in-one -- unless somebody scores an ace before the sun sets on the tourney on Saturday.

McLoone said he didn't recall offhand the year Redel found the bottom of the cup with one stroke, other than to say, "It was a long time ago."

McLoone, who said his handicap now is a "very high 24" and has won the tournament once himself, said the Booby Open is merely the feature attraction in a series of events.

Many of Booby players also attend three potlucks, all of which include golf, during the year, culminating in the Saused Open in late September or early October. That event is so named because of the libations, such as McLoone's brandy punch and vodka punch, during the round.

They also switch things up, such as sometimes playing nine holes backwards, course traffic permitting.

"We had some funny shots, but we had a good time," he said.

The Golf Gods have smiled on the Booby Open, with McLoone noting, "Golf was never rained out, but sometimes, we had to stop. And three times, we couldn't have cocktails in the backyard. That's pretty good for that long."

McLoone hopes the luck holds for the 50th, saying, "There's a chance of rain Saturday, but ..."

Why stop now?

"We thought 50 years is a good number to finish with," McLoone said.

Ellenz added a golf spin to the notion of the Booby Open's final hurrah, saying of many participants, "Most of them have gone to the big divot, I'm afraid."

This article was written by Mike Tighe from La Crosse Tribune, Wis. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.