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High time for all at the Bourbon Open
Bill Surface
June 10, 1963
They were going to grow corn on the course in Bardstown, Ky. until Charlie and his pals founded golf's most spirited tournament. Now 400 happily tee off each year with nothing to lose but booze
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June 10, 1963

High Time For All At The Bourbon Open

They were going to grow corn on the course in Bardstown, Ky. until Charlie and his pals founded golf's most spirited tournament. Now 400 happily tee off each year with nothing to lose but booze

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Todd Brady is 34, bald and his stomach hangs over the belt of his black Bermuda shorts. He is president of a construction firm during the week. He plays serious golf on weekends. The other day, while competing in one of the world's largest golf tournaments, Brady chipped a nice shot onto the 4th green. He circled the cup twice, backed off and extended his arm. Brady's caddie did not give him a putter. Instead, an attendant wearing a bartender's jacket and pushing a straw baby buggy handed him a glass of 90-proof bourbon, soda, ice and a napkin.

Brady, you see, was one of 402 golfers from eight states playing in the 18th annual Bourbon Open golf tournament in Bardstown, Ky. There is nothing misleading about the name of the event—over 100 gallons of bourbon are opened there each year. Each player receives half a pint on the first tee. In addition, except for $175 in the pro division, six julep cups—and three hams, in case a kid or a preacher wins—all of the prizes are bourbon.

Forty percent of the world's bourbon is produced by 12 distilleries around this town of 4,798, located 34 miles south of Louisville, and when the wind is right there is even a bourbon scent on the golf course. Kentucky law prohibits distilleries from giving away whisky, but the bourbon barons circumvent this by donating money for ads in the tournament program. Revenue from the ad sales is used to buy the prize bourbon. It also is against Kentucky law to buy a drink in towns the size of Bardstown—only residents of places with populations over 8,000 are considered urbane enough to handle liquor. But during the Open, if you have 35� for a glass of branch water, you can get the bourbon to go with it.

The setting of the Bourbon Open is not exactly a southern spa. The clubhouse, which resembles a nice little maroon barn, sits on a graded bank beside the road. To reach the first tee, golfers have to climb a 125-foot hill that is so steep the club wants to install a ski lift when it gets the money. The course is leased from the Old Kentucky Home State Park, which bounds it on two sides. It is only nine holes, and you must go around twice for a par-72. There are no sand traps, but obstacles, in addition to empty bottles, abound. One is a graveyard, which must be shot over.

The course has neither a pro nor a greenkeeper. "We do have a committee that hires somebody to cut the weeds, water the greens and put straw in the washouts," says Dr. Bill Oakley, the club president. "Used to be we only had sand, then cottonseed greens. Finally a bunch went to a seed house in Louisville, bought some seed and found out how to have grass greens."

The greens are not too bad, at that. The course is something else. "It's like playing in an old field," says Ira Miller, a bottle-cap man from Middletown, N.J., "and you end up in the wrong fairway and have to dodge balls all day. But I wouldn't miss it for anything."

The attraction of the Bourbon Open is simply fun. It is the world's only three-day tournament where each contestant plays just one day—18 holes. The other two days are reserved for socializing. Homes are open for parties. Keys are left in automobiles around the club and visiting golfers unhesitantly drive them. They also unhesitantly use the club's facilities at all hours, and it is a good thing that they do.

At 3:30 on a Saturday morning, the most recent Bourbon Open was about to end spectacularly and prematurely. The clubhouse caught fire, and there was no watchman to report it. Two fully dressed golfers, however, had been wallowing in the swimming pool. Friends arrived from downtown to haul them away, and discovered the blaze. The fire department was aroused in time to restrict the damage to one end of the structure. Charlie DeSpain, vice-president of Heaven Hill Distilleries, arrived and rewarded the fire fighters with bourbon. Some of the firemen were still there when the first golfers showed up at 6:30 a.m.

The Bourbon Open has three categories of golfers. About 100 amateurs and professionals from Kentucky and four or five surrounding states seriously try to win. One of the pros in last month's tournament was Courtney Noe, a red-faced, friendly man who holds the distinction of being the low pro in the inaugural Bourbon Open. After leaving the bar and walking onto the course, Courtney did not appear to have the steel nerves and iron will of a Ben Hogan. But he sank a 25-foot putt for a birdie on the 18th hole. This gave him a 4-under-par 68 and tied him for first place with Carroll Boyatt, a 33-year-old club professional from La Grange, Ky., and Rich Casabella, a 23-year-old pro from Honolulu who plans to join the PGA tour soon.

About half of the field is a hopeful array of duffers. Many in this group have business foursomes, and inviting a customer to the Bourbon Open usually makes a friend. The third group, about 100 strong, regards scores as somewhat immaterial. There are times when somebody has to putt for them near the end of their rounds.

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