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There is no golf course on the PGA tour quite like the Crawford County Country Club (the 4Cs) in Robinson, Ill. Where else can you get to the locker room 30 minutes before you leave your motel room? Where else can you find a clubhouse doorman wearing an Episcopal minister's collar? Where else can you find slot machines in the clubhouse? And where else can you three-putt to the accompaniment of a high school pep band practicing for a football game?
Only at the 4Cs in Robinson. The touring pros discovered this last week during the $75,000 Robinson Open Golf Classic. Later, when Bob Goalby accepted the winner's check for $15,000 Sunday afternoon, they discovered one more thing: the check was signed, certified and bounceproof. Not all winners' checks on the tour are like that anymore, as the players learned at the Michigan Golf Classic three weeks ago.
As Goalby and his rivals also learned, the Robinson Open is the mystery tournament on the PGA schedule. Indeed, it offers the smallest purse for a so-called major championship on the tour, and for this reason all of the top 25 money-winners for 1969 naturally managed to occupy themselves elsewhere. Maybe some of them couldn't find the place because the tournament is played in the most remote geographical area on the tour.
Robinson is an industrial town of 8,000 located in southeast Illinois, some five hours by car from Chicago and three hours from both St. Louis and Indianapolis. During the tournament most players had to stay in motels at Vincennes, Ind., a half-hour drive, and they were unusually early for their starting times every day because a part of Indiana runs on Eastern time while Illinois is an hour behind on Central time.
There is no tourism to lure spectators to Robinson, although some people do stop occasionally to ask about Novelist James Jones, who grew up in the town. The townspeople always tell them that Jones was the first boy to jump through the skylight at the high school and that he liked to take off his clothes and run around shooting arrows at everyone.
The timing of the tournament is peculiar, too. The tour itself came to a halt two weeks before the Robinson, and in two more weeks it resumes in Las Vegas. Certainly a tournament played in Illinois the last week of September—football time—cannot make sense. And how can it possibly make money?
"That's what everybody asked us from the beginning," says Dick Heath, the tournament director. "But this year we will make about $50,000—grossing about $150,000. Now next year I'd like to schedule a $150,000 Robinson Open. That would really be something, wouldn't it? A $150,000 tournament in Robinson. They'd all be here for that one."
The Robinson is Dick Heath's tournament. Heath became a club official in 1962, when the 4Cs was a little nine-hole pasture that lost thousands of dollars every year. "The first thing I did was change the spending programs of the members," Heath said. "I installed a charge-only system in the clubhouse and the pro shop, and we made $6,800 the first year. No country club can make money doing a cash business."
Heath also realized that nine-hole golf courses were a nuisance, so he convinced Dr. Sam Allen, a general practitioner in Robinson, to give the club 100 acres of adjacent land. In return, Heath gave Dr. Allen a lifetime membership in the club. Heath raised $35,000 himself, borrowed $50,000 and talked townspeople into donating $35,000 of free services, then built the new nine holes on Dr. Allen's land.
The first Robinson Open was played in 1962 on the old nine-hole course. "We were losing so much money then," Heath said, "that the club couldn't put up the purse, so I sold $10 shares to 200 people. In the end we lost $1.26 per share." After that the Robinson became an annual event, and each year Heath increased the size of the purse. "We scared everybody when we went to $10,000 in 1967," he said, "and they about died when we went to $25,000 in 1968. When I convinced them that we could have a $75,000 tournament this year, they all thought I was nuts or something." To protect themselves against that $75,000, the club members immediately insured Heath's life for $150,000. "Any troubles," Heath says kiddingly, "and all they have to do is bump me off."