It was a blast from the past and new tradition for the future. The inaugural Mike Fatke Memorial Hickory Tournament was a success over the weekend as nearly 30 golfers, donning knickers and argyle socks with their vintage hickory clubs in tow, hit the links at the Manistee Golf & Country Club.
The two-person best ball matchplay event spanned Saturday and Sunday with a series of nine-hole matches. Saturday was met with beautiful weather — a perfect fit for the Country Club’s picturesque location along the bluff of Lake Michigan — while on Sunday participants braved the elements, and champions were crowned in the rain.
“From everything I heard from the players, they were really pleased to be here,” said event organizer Fred Niles. “They loved the golf course, and the rain (Sunday) did not seem to put a damper on any of their enthusiasm for the tournament.
“Those who have been involved with these types of tournaments in the past said it was fantastic for a first-time event,” he added. “That was really good to hear.”
Golfers came from across the state and beyond to participate in the inaugural event.
“We ended up with 28 players,” Niles said. “We had seven (Country) Club members participate and the rest were from around the state, one from Canada and several from Indiana and Ohio. So, they came from several points.”
Teams were divided into three flights, each named after legendary golfers from the hickory era: Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones.
Each match presented a total of 10 points that were up for grabs (one point for each hole won and one for the match), and the team accumulating the most points by the end of the weekend tournament was to be crowned the winner.
The entire field played two matches Saturday and just one of the two scheduled rounds on Sunday because of the rain. Two teams, however, were tied after three rounds and decided to play the fourth and final match through the elements.
“They wanted to do a playoff, so they played the second nine in torrential rains,” Niles said with a laugh.
When it was all said and done, the Detroit area’s Xander Dobreff and Kevin Holland, both members of the North American One-Armed Golfer Association, were crowned champions.
Dobreff and Holland emerged from the Gene Sarazen flight, while Dennis Joy of Charlevoix and Bob Mooney of Manistee won the Bobby Jones flight, and Ed Ronco of Wyandotte and Bill Tucholski of Toledo, Ohio, won the Walter Hagen flight.
The tournament also served as a memorial to Manistee Golf & Country Club’s longtime superintendent Mike Fatke, who sadly passed away earlier this year at the age of 55.
Since the spring of 1994, Fatke had maintained the grounds with thorough care and meticulous attention, considering the course his home away from home. He also had a passion for the game of golf and regularly played the Country Club’s back nine in the evenings, notably with his collection of vintage hickory clubs.
“Mike was such a great guy,” Niles said. “It was such a sad thing to lose him of course, personally, and for the club to lose him too, in light of how much he loved and took care of the course.”
The idea for a local hickory tournament was initially sparked in conversations Niles had with Fatke.
“He and I had talked several times about doing some kind of a hickory event at the club,” Niles said. “Then one day, some fellows from Traverse City showed up with hickories, and Mike asked if he could play with them and ran home to get his.
“Subsequently, I ended up through happenstance meeting one of those guys he had played with, Howard Vogel,” Niles explained. “With Howard, we talked about getting a tournament together, and he has a friend, Roger Hill, who’s the commissioner of the Michigan Hickory Tour.
“So, we all kind of put this event together, and I had mentioned to them I’d like it to be a memorial tournament to Mike, and they were enthusiastic about that.”
The Mike Fatke Memorial Hickory Tournament is now part of the Michigan Hickory Tour, which, according to its website, is one of the largest hickory playing groups in the country. The tour is comprised of golfers who play with pre-1935 hickory clubs and is affiliated with the Society of Hickory Golfers.
Niles said part of the proceeds generated from the weekend’s event will go toward the “Save A Buddy Fund,” which was established by Fatke and his wife Molly in 2014 through the Manistee County Community Foundation. In memory of their rescue dog Buddy, the “Save A Buddy Fund” is aimed to help owners offset the cost of spaying and neutering their dogs.
Niles said with the success of the first event, the plan is certainly to bring it back on an annual basis.
“The players who gave me feedback said they’ll be back,” he said. “We’ll be looking at dates, but I’d say it’s a given that we’ll have a tournament next year.”