It may not be the pinnacle of golf play, but the Palmer Men’s Bible Study Golf Tournament is a champion to ministries at Palmer that provide compassion and valuable resources to people in need. For 25 years, it has raised crucial funds for outreach ministry while drawing in parishioners and friends for a special day of fellowship, chuckles, plenty of eye rolls, a pretty good lunch, and… oh yes, the golf game.
It’s a competition like no other. You can get someone to place the tee 300 yards into the fairway (but it will probably cost you), and if you can’t putt, you can just throw the ball toward the hole. “The throws became a very integral part of the tournament,” explained John Fields, who chaired his 25th and last event this year. And if you win too often, you might be subject not to praise and awe, but some serious ribbing – ask Theo Pinson what happened at an awards ceremony after his A Team won three years in a row.
“One of the trademarks was we had almost no rules,” said John, reminiscing about his years at the helm. “People would say I don’t want to play because I’m not a serious golfer, and I’d say, ‘You mustn’t have played in this before… this is not the Masters. Don’t worry about it.’”
Sometimes John and his fondly dubbed “distant vice chairman” Bob Hawley would feel that pulling off the tournament was achieved solely through divine intervention – “God loves this tournament,” they would tell one another – and in recent years they’ve produced a streamlined, more sustainable event at Hermann Park.
Now, after years of unsuccessful attempts by both of them to hand off the mantle – “We were always trying to give it away and never could.” – Archway Academy, the sober high school on Palmer’s campus for teens in recovery, wants to join into relationship with Palmer to continue the fun and fundraising. John and his helpers are hopeful that with the inclusion of Archway’s energy and resources, this beloved tradition will continue for many years to come.
The golf tournament was started by the Men’s Bible Study in 1992 to support the Way Station, a mainstay among Palmer’s outreach ministries, that provided hot meals to homeless citizens five days a week, every week of the year, the only exception being Thanksgiving Day when other ministries around Houston opened their doors for holiday meals. In its 25 years of existence, the tournament has raised more than $300,000. When the Way Station was closed in August 2015, the future of the tournament was uncertain, but Cornerstone Ministries sought out a new relationship that would support their recovery work, and next came Archway.
John clearly relishes the fun he had during his quarter of a century on the job and his gratitude abounds for those who helped. In some years, there were home cooked dinners from parishioners and live music from Pat Robson and Rev. John Price of the Backsliders. One year they booked a Greyhound bus with beer and golf videos, and for a certain duration, Susan Alexander’s Ladies Team provided extra excitement with some serious competition.
He’s grateful to his wife Kathy who served many a dinner in her Palmer apron, to Bob Hawley for his unflagging support, to Nancy Tucker, who granted mulligans for a stiff fee, to Andy Schatte, to Greg Hambrick, and especially for “sweet, sweet Bettye Adams” who staffed the check-in desk for many years, bringing her unique touch of efficiency, humor and warmth.
John says he is ready to relinquish his leadership of the tournament; he’ll no longer wave his golf club Sunday morning on the Palmer altar to signal the return of the tournament for yet another year, but he’s grateful that it will continue to support needed ministries and stay affiliated with Palmer Church. He said he and Bob Hawley are proud that the tournament has lasted a quarter century (with only one postponement due to rain) and they have high hopes for its future.
“For the last five years we felt it was going to go into the sunset but we kind of kept each other standing to keep momentum. Every time we felt it was going to end somebody else came to the table,” he said. “We only had one rainout in 25 years. God loves this tournament!”