Snead's record-setting win was important to the evolution of the GGO, but just as significant was the roast in his honor that had preceded the first round, a to-do for which Ed Sullivan was wheeled in from New York. "It was the biggest social event Greensboro had seen," says Irwin Smallwood, who covered the GGO from 1948 to 1988 for the Greensboro News & Record, and its predecessor, the Daily News. "Ever since then the tournament has been such a fashionable happening." So much of the GGO's appeal is that it remains the community's one big party each year, the celebration that kicks off spring. "The energy here is not like most golf tournaments," says Waldorf. "It's more like a NASCAR event."
The 17th hole at Forest Oaks Country Club, where the tournament has been played since 1977, is especially renowned for its rowdy stock-car-race ambience, though the mood has mellowed since a beer cart was banished from the area a few years back. The green at this 188-yard par-3 is framed by bleachers and two towering corporate boxes, and a tournament staple has been for fans to lay wagers on the golfers as they pass through. "Playing that hole's always a kick," says Jay Don Blake, 48th place this year. "There's high stakes on every shot—if not for yourself, then at least for the fans." During a practice round Fuzzy Zoeller once teed up a driver and. sent a ball screaming over the bleachers, much to the delight of the crowd. In another practice-round tribute to the spectators, Vance Heafner played the 17th while wearing one of those hats with a beer can mounted atop it.
The buzz this year was about the par-4 7th, where third-round playing partners Keith Fergus and Waldorf dunked consecutive shots from the fairway for matching eagles. They celebrated with a sloppy but enthusiastic two-handed high five, the kind of unchecked glee that the GGCC promotes.
Because the event gives so much to Greensboro—last year's tournament raised a whopping $ 1.8 million, much of which was put toward charitable works in the community—it is not surprising that Greensboro gives back. During the first round this year, a lost wallet was returned to tournament headquarters, with all $500 still in it. The next day a misplaced money clip was dropped off, with all $45 still there.
Of course, $545 was more than Ralph Guldahl or Paul Runyan made for tying for third place in 1938. To keep up with the prize-money wars, the tournament took on K Mart as a sponsor in 1988, and Chrysler came on board this year. Only two regular Tour stops offer more than the GGCC's $1.8 million purse. Even so, coming on the heels of the Players Championship, the Masters and Hilton Head, Greensboro has in recent years become a week during which many top players take a holiday. This year Greg Norman and Nick Faldo jilted the tournament after previously committing to play for the first time since 1989.
The tournament should get a boost from trumpeting O'Meara as defending champ, particularly if his star continues to rise. Then again, the folks around Greensboro don't seem particularly concerned about such matters. They know that the GGO—make that the GGCC—has secured its good name. Says Melvin, "From the very beginning, this tournament has been about bettering the city of Greensboro and bettering the game of golf. We've managed to do both."