Snow in April? Remembering the Frozen Greater Greensboro Open of 1987

A couple of years ago when sorting through old boxes I happened upon a column from April 4, 1987 during sports writing days that I wrote for the Burlington Times-News. Back then, the Greater Greensboro Open  was played the week before the Masters. — which would be this particular week. It was a popular tournament for fans if not always for the players. Many touring pros took that week to get in extra practice at Augusta National for the much more significant tournament in Georgia. Still, the rowdy Greensboro fans absolutely loved the tournament and turned out in droves, swilled beers and cheered to excess for every shot — even the most marginal ones. I once heard a fan yell “get in the hole,” as a hot dog wrapper rolled in the wind toward the 17th green at Forest Oaks.

PGA player Dave Hill called it “The Beer Can Open.”

On the debit side, though, weather was often a real concern. North Carolina’s Piedmont isn’t always hospitable in late March or early April — as we see today on April 2, 2019. The wintry / springtry mix of snow, sleet and rain.

That was the case in 1987. I covered a pretty bad day at Forest Oaks Golf Club when players wore knit caps instead of visors. The tournament, by the way, is now played in the summer and is known as The Wyndham. It’s just not the same.

Anyway, I wrote the column about Round Two of the GGO in 1987. Scott Simpson was the eventual winner, by the way. Here’s the column for today. My longtime friend Steve Huffman always quotes one particular line from it.

There’s no positive, full-blown proof but I can’t help but believe that Jim Thorpe had the right idea.

He packed his bag and went — elsewhere, anywhere.

The Roxboro native, who skied to a first-round 77 Thursday, chalked up a WD for Friday’s Greater Greensboro Open. Could it be that Thorpe, who now calls Buffalo, N.Y. home, decided to shuffle off as the old song goes in time to miss North Carolina’s flirtation with an April snowstorm?

That’s my theory — and if it holds any water at all — then Thorpe may have proved himself the most intelligent professional golfer on the Tour.

Or at least the driest, Friday afternoon.

“With what the weatherman said I thought we’d take the day off,” said Clarence Rose, who managed the day’s low round, 68, prior to the afternoon rains. “I woke up this morning and it was sunny and I thought ‘what’s this, the weatherman’s wrong again?’”

Well, give the guys with the pointers, radar and maps some credit. They were right, eventually. Better late than never? Better never than late in this case.

A breezy, chilly morning turned into steel-tinged winter blasts by 1 p.m. Patches of rain sprayed the players and a below GGO-standard turnout of fans I mean even the beer concessions were going over like a lead balloon. Hey, people wanted coffee (what?). And I swear to Juan Valdez there wasn’t any.

What’s worse? Women, usually suited in short shorts and tank tops were sporting parkas, toboggan caps and gloves. People were looking for shelter everywhere.

It wasn’t pretty, pleasant or springlike. Heck, it wasn’t even GGO-like. The sponsoring Jaycees have hunkered down in some monsters before. Remember the time Tom Weiskopf carded a 64 in 50 mph winds at Sedgefield? But at least then things got better and there wasn’t snow on the way.

It all got so ridiculous Friday that when PGA public relations representative David Lancer brought second round leader Danny Edwards into the press tent he introduced the former GGO champion as the early leader in the men’s downhill. That’s skiing folks.

Edwards, wearing a toboggan cap himself, put matters in perspective.

“They ought to play here a month later,” said Edwards, his face beet red after a morning battling the gusting winds. “The greens don’t recover from all the play. It’s almost like putting on a dead surface because it’s still wintertime here. It’s a shame they can’t play a month later.”

The GGO media guide bills the tournament as the “Spring Spectacular” but with more snow predicted today and temperatures hovering just above freezing it might become known as the 1987 Winter Carnival.

“Better have some orange balls (Saturday),” said Rose with a chuckle.

I could almost hear Jim Thorpe laughing all the way to Buffalo.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s