A few weeks ago, I attended a professional golf tournament for the first time. My adventure began on a Thursday morning, when I noticed while watching television that Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, just 20 miles west of Portland, was hosting the final regular season event of the Web.Com Tour, beginning that very day. So I did a quick check on ticket prices for spectators — which were a bargain at $25 for the entire tournament — and got my daughter, Briana’s permission to sleep on her couch for a few nights. By the next morning, I was heading off to Portland in my trusty old Camry.
One of my reasons for wanting to attend the tournament, in addition to the chance to visit with my daughter, was the opportunity to watch one of my favorite golfers, Jason Allred. I first heard of Allred when he was just 13, after a buddy of mine played in the same group with him at Oak Knoll Golf Course in Ashland, where Jason grew up. My friend told me that this kid was already an amazing golfer with a great short game and even better manners. At that time, our family lived in nearby Talent, so I made a point of following Allred’s standout career as a junior golfer, and later when he was at Pepperdine and eventually on various pro tours.
On the first day of the Portland WinCo Foods Open, Allred had shot 1 under par while playing in the afternoon, so I knew that on Friday, he would be playing in the morning, and that his chances of making the cut were dicey. When I arrived at Pumpkin Ridge at about 2:00 on Friday afternoon, I was relieved to learn that Allred had posted 1 under again that morning, which meant that he would get to play on the weekend by the skin of his teeth. That was good news for both of us.
On Friday afternoon, I got the lay of the land, literally, by walking the beautiful course that is carved carefully out of forest and wetlands. I learned that I could go anywhere I wanted so long as I stayed behind the ropes and observed proper golf etiquette whenever players were making a shot anywhere nearby. The modest-sized gallery was so respectful that I sometimes felt like I was in church.
After enjoying a good visit with Briana on Friday evening, I headed back to the course early Saturday morning amidst strong winds and occasional showers. I made the decision to follow Allred’s threesome throughout the round, where I tagged along with about a dozen other fans of his, most of whom turned out to be his family and friends. I re-introduced myself to his mom, Peggy, whom I had met many years before when she was subbing at a school where I was student-teaching in Ashland. Peggy graciously introduced me to her husband, Gene, who is an E.R. doctor, and to Jason’s lovely wife, Kimberly, and to a few of Jason’s friends. For the rest of the day, our little entourage mingled contentedly, sometimes chatting quietly, but always mindful of the golf that was unfolding. The blustery conditions proved challenging, and Jason shot 3 over par with a score that was not atypical relative to the rest of the field. Having the chance to meet and socialize with Jason’s family and friends that day was a great treat for me.
On Sunday, I chose to sample the rest of the tournament rather than following just Allred’s group. I set my camp chair behind the first green, watched a few groups come through, and then repeated the process for each hole in succession. By the time I had reached the 18th hole, the last groups were just a few holes away. I was delighted when I learned that Allred had finished with a solid final round of 5 under, and I was on hand at the 18th green when Dicky Pride, a 46-year-old journeyman who had not won a tournament in more than two decades, notched his second professional victory. I also watched as the top 25 money-earners on the Web.Com Tour were awarded their highly coveted PGA Tour cards for 2016.
Many casual observers might mistakenly assume that most pro golfers are multi-millionaires, when in fact the vast majority of pros are just grinding every week to earn a living. A guy like Jason Allred, who comes from a strong family, and who, along with Kimberly, is providing for their three young kids, is a pleasure to root for. And supporting a tournament that raised more than 1.1 million dollars for local charities gave me additional satisfaction. With the bonus of getting to visit with my daughter each evening — what an idyllic way to spend a weekend!
John McColgan writes from his home in Joseph.