OKATIE, S.C. — As a competitor, organizer and host of the Chechessee Creek Senior Invitational at Chechessee Creek Club, highly decorated senior amateur golfer and Spring Island resident Gary Shimmin says he couldn't be more pleased with where the tournament stands entering its fifth year.
The Chechessee Creek Senior Invitational boasts a full field of 96 of the best Seniors (55 and over) and Super Seniors (65 and over) in the world of golf this week — including last year's tournament Senior champion, Mike Bodney, and its Super Senior defending champ, Don Marsh, as well as players from all over the country including North Dakota and several from Canada.
Golfweek magazine awards points to tournaments based on the quality of field and the Chechessee Creek Senior Invitational now rates as an 800-point event, while there are only a few 1,000-point events in the country. "To have gotten to that level in just a couple of years is a testament to the golf course as well as a testament to the fact that the field we get is pretty good," said Shimmin, who won the Canadian Senior Am Match Play Championship in 2005.
A Chechessee Creek member, Shimmin was Golfweek's Super Senior Player of the Year for 2011 after he won the Florida Azalea Senior Championship and finished in the top 10 in 15 of the 17 tournaments he played. "You can play in one of these senior events every week of the year somewhere," said Shimmin. "The Chechessee Creek Senior Invitational has now moved into the upper echelon of senior events. We generally have a very strong field top to bottom. You basically must have a 2 or 3 handicap to get in the invitational."
In the Senior field this year, there are three players competing at Chechessee Creek who recently finished competing in the U.S. Senior Amateur: Jack Hall, Jim Rollefson and Paul Schlachter — all among the top 30 senior amateurs in the country. The field also includes Cyrus Whitney, who won the Senior Porters Cup a couple of weeks ago, and Jerry McMullen, who won another prestigious senior event, The Hesler, earlier this year.
On the Super Senior side, the Chechessee Creek Senior Invitational boasts arguably the strongest fields of any Super Senior event this year. Ted Smith was the Golfweek Player of the Year last year and is a runaway to win the award again this year. Shimmin was the 2011 Player of the Year and Walt Martin was the 2010 Player of the Year, so the tournament boasts the past four winners of the award.
Also at Chechessee Creek this week are Don Marsh, who won the Canadian Senior in 2007 (Shimmin won it in 2005), Bill Ingle, who is also in the highest echelon of Super Senior players, Jerry Greenbaum, who has played in the Senior Amateur a number of times, along with Fred Silver, who has been a mainstay in senior golf for the past 15 years and won the inaugural event at Chechessee Creek five years ago.
"People who come to this event generally come back," said Shimmin. "It is a terrific event in that respect."
There will be a celebrity touch as well at Chechessee Creek, as one of the tournament competitors is popular talk show host Maury Povich, who played in the U.S. Senior Amateur this year and is, according to Shimmin "a terrific guy."
"This is the first year [Povich] has been down here to play with us, so we are happy about that," said Shimmin.
As for the tournament setting, its beautiful Carolina Lowcountry setting inspired the ambience and character of the Chechessee Creek golf course. Architects Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore took full advantage of the magnificent forests of tall pines and ancient live oaks, as well as the tidal marshlands and creeks of the Chechessee River. The classical, strategic-style design is in keeping with the goal of creating a traditional, old-fashioned club.
In addition, Chechessee Creek is a caddie course, which adds a unique flavor to the Chechessee Creek Senior Invitational — as it is the only one of the senior events that requires its participants to walk. "It's real golf," said Shimmin. "Forget the fact that these guys are 55 to 78 years old. The only way you can play is if you can walk.
"You're going to have to shoot pretty close to even par to have any chance of winning this event. These boys can still play. Generally, 4 or 5 over is a very good score. The course stands up very well. It's not going to beat you up with its length. But you have to golf your ball to get it around here anywhere near par."
Shimmin added that the commitment of Chechessee Creek Club to be one of the finest private clubs in America — constantly offering a golf experience for its members and guests that is second to none — has helped transform the Chechessee Creek Senior Invitational into one of the most outstanding events of its type anywhere.
"In terms of taking care of the players this is very close to the best event of the year," said Shimmin. "The tournament cocktail party is not just wine and cheese. It is Chechessee Creek doing what Chechessee Creek does. It's a great course, it's a great venue and the club takes real good care of us. Everyone who is here participating feels very lucky that a place like Chechessee Creek is willing to do this, to give their course up for three days."
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