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Waco Turner came out of the Turner Lodge on a crest above the 18th green last Thursday afternoon and got behind the wheel of his new tan Cadillac. As the car bounced off down a dirt road and onto the golf course, a 22-caliber rifle and a .410 shotgun rattled on the floorboard of the back seat. "Them's for turtles," said Waco Turner. "Turtles eat the fish in my lakes, and I shoot the turtles." Peering through dark glasses that balanced on a freckled nose between vaguely Indian-looking cheekbones, Waco Turner guided his Cadillac down the middle of a fairway. A golf ball kicked up dust a few yards ahead. "Why, I might get hit out here," Turner said, surprised. Suddenly he veered the Cadillac across the fairway, through a patch of Johnson-grass rough, across another fairway and onto a shale path. Golfers looked up, grinned and waved as the Cadillac passed among them. Nobody seemed to mind. This, after all, was Waco Turner's tournament and Waco Turner's golf course, and it was accepted that Waco Turner could drive his Cadillac anywhere he pleased. By late Sunday afternoon Waco Turner's Cadillac still had not been thunked by a golf ball, Waco Turner's golfers had won $20,000 purse money and $19,235 bonus money, and Waco Turner's 1964 champion was a virtual unknown, Pete Brown, who collected $3,040, all told, for shooting an eight-under-par 280 to beat Dan Sikes by one stroke and become, as a consequence, the first Negro ever to win an official PGA tournament.
It was his own sort of fierce individualism that made Waco Turner build the golf course on which his annual Poor Boy Open was held in remote Burneyville, Okla.—an old Chickasaw Indian village near the muddy Red River on the Texas-Oklahoma border. For three years Turner held his tournament at Dornick Hills Country Club in the town of Ardmore (pop. 20,184), some 30 miles to the north. But that did not work out, because people kept getting in Waco's way. Like most of the men who came up in the tough oil fields of 40 years ago, Turner cannot abide people getting underfoot or asking too many questions.
"I ran this tournament up at Ardmore until the board of directors of Dornick Hills started trying to tell me what to do," Turner said, steering his Cadillac between two of the ponds that make the front nine of his golf course look, from the entrance to the grounds, like a rice paddy. "Nobody is going to tell me what to do. I just moved down here to this 800 acres my daddy had owned since 1894, and I built my own golf course, and I have my own golf tournament, and there ain't no board of directors except me."
If there were a board of directors, the Poor Boy Open (officially sanctioned by the PGA as the Waco Turner Open) might never have been approved. The event conflicts with the Las Vegas Tournament of Champions, which assures Turner of hardly ever getting the pro tour's currently successful players. Turner does not even get his defending champion back—the winner qualifies for next year's Tournament of Champions. None of this bothers Waco Turner in the least. The Poor Boy Open charges no admission fees and seldom has a gallery, other than Turner in his Cadillac. The idea of the tournament is to give the losers a place to earn money while the winners play at Las Vegas, and the tour's losers flock in because this is often their biggest payday. To help the losers even more, Turner hands out bonuses—$500 for a hole in one, $100 for the low daily round, $50 for an eagle, $25 for a chip-in and $15 for a birdie. The bonus money has never been less than $18,000. None of that, or the purse money, Turner insists, is written off his income tax. He holds his tournament because he likes to.
"I used to run cattle, goats and hogs on this place," Turner said as he stopped the Cadillac to watch Buster Cupit hit a drive. "Golf is better. I designed this course myself. Over there, you see those ponds by that green? We tried to dig sand traps there, but water came up out of the crawdad holes, so now we got water hazards."
The Cadillac rumbled off again and swung past a metal hangar that threw flashes of sunlight near the first tee. Inside the hangar were Turner's twin-engine Cessna 310 and a dusty black Cadillac limousine that belonged to Turner's late wife, Opie, and has hardly been driven since she died two years ago. During the proper seasons the hangar floor is piled with pumpkins and watermelons from the gardens that edge some of the fairways. The gardens and orchards around the course also yield pears, peaches, onions, radishes, cucumbers and beets that are canned in the kitchen of the lodge or served in the dining room.
Passing the hangar and the road that leads to the airstrip, the Cadillac turned up the hill beside the golf shop—a building that much resembles a fire hall—and crunched through the gravel past Turner's own cottage. Beyond, on the road, was a white Buick station wagon. A couple of caddies with golf bags sprawled on the rear gate of the station wagon, and up front sat golfers being ferried the half mile from the 9th green to the 10th tee. Turner, a wisp of a man even when seen at his tallest, slumped low behind the wheel, his dark glasses barely clearing the dashboard, nodded at the caddies and turned the Cadillac down toward the 18th green again.
Something was happening at 18. A few yards away a boy was tugging at the neck of a big black Labrador retriever. The handful of people around the green were laughing. A young amateur golfer, Jim Hardy of Oklahoma State University, was standing as if undecided whether to laugh or to whack the dog with his putter. Turner asked what was wrong.
"This dog has got Jim Hardy's ball," somebody said. "He run on the green and picked it up and took off with it."
"Make him put it back," Turner said in his hoarse, rasping voice.