By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
When the month of April draws to a close each year, Cary Craig can’t help but feel an overwhelming rush of anticipation.
For the Chesley Oaks professional and general manager, the dawning of May can only mean one thing — the return of the Sunbelt Senior Tour to Cullman.
The sixth annual Yellowhammer Open will kick off its festivities on Monday, with breakfast and registration beginning at 8:30 a.m., followed by a dazzling display of golf from trick-shot artist John Whitty at 9:30 a.m. before the amatuers and pros tee it up in the pro-am at 10 a.m.
“It’s an exciting time of the year,” Craig said. “It’s always fun to get these guys back out here. Most of these guys have some PGA experience. There are a lot of good golfers who are going to be out there.”
Some of the professionals who will be heading this year’s field include last year’s champion Jim Chancey, five-time PGA Tour winner Danny Edwards, Sunbelt Tour money leader Paul Broadhurst and Dave Rummells, a two-time, top-five finisher at the PGA Championship, one of golf’s four majors.
With 18 teams already signed up for the pro-am, Craig believes the star power of the Open field has played a big part in the growing number of pro-am participants since the tournament’s inception back in 2008.
“Absolutely it has,” he said. “People know these guys. Many of them played on some kind of professional tour. They may be a little older, but they can still golf a ball. They can play.”
The Senior Sunbelt Tour is currently in its 18th year of existence and shows no signs of slowing down as it continues to provide golfers with tournaments, experience and money as they work to earn their exemption into the Champions Tour.
“This tour kind of mirrors the regular senior tour,” Craig said. “They have their qualifiers and pre-qualifiers. It’s a mini-tour.”
As the pros begin to funnel in for their 54-hole tournament beginning on Tuesday, they’ll be greeted by a golf course that Craig says is “in great shape.”
“Everything looks good right now,” Craig said. “The greens are fantastic. If the weather holds up, there could be some really good scoring out there. Each year, except for the last, there has been someone who’s posted a round of 63.”
While there are ample birdie opportunities on the 6,738-yard, Par 71 course, the Chesley Oaks Course has a few holes that can make even the best of players pay for a wayward shot, including the 459-yard, par 4 sixth hole, which is rated as the toughest on the course. Two of the par 3s can also measure 200 yards or longer depending on whether a golfer is in the regular senior (ages 47-55) or the super senior (55+) division.
There will be a pairing party tonight in the Chesley Oaks Banquet Hall, where the golfers will partake in some fine dining and a meet and greet with their fellow playing companions.
Craig said he currently plans to have the professionals tee off at 8 a.m. each morning of the three-day tournament. Attendance for the Yellowhammer Open, as well as for the pro-am, is free to the public.
‰ Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at email@example.com.