The Southwestern New York Northwestern Pennsylvania (SWNY-NWPA) Men’s Amateur Golf Tournament has been the premier match play tournament in the area for 84 years. Organizers of the event are eagerly planning the 85th anniversary event in 2021.
The history of the golf tournament is interesting. In 1934, E. Boyd Fitzpatrick purchased the Olean Times Herald newspaper from his siblings, who had inherited it from their father, M.G. Fitzpatrick. As owner and publisher, Boyd established the tournament that year as a four-day match play event. It has been held annually in August, interrupted for only three years in 1943-1945 during the war. In 1948, the tournament was extended to a five-day event by Fitzpatrick’s son-in-law, John R. Henzel who took over as Tournament Director.
Since its inception, the tournament had rotated amongst four courses (Elkdale, PennHills, Pine Acres, and Bartlett) until it finally settled at Bartlett Country Club in Olean, New York for the last several years. John’s oldest son, Chris, assumed the reins of the tournament in 1974 and continued to run the tournament through 2019. In early 2020, Chris passed away unexpectedly leaving the reins to son Kyle who took over along with devoted committee members, Jon Kirk, Steve Campbell, Greg Gibbons, Frank Higgins, Knut Johnsen, and Adam Bennett.
This is an event that has meant a great deal to the Henzel-Fitzpatrick families over the years because it gives back to the community. All proceeds from the tournament benefit two local charities, HomeCare & Hospice and the ReHabilitation Center. Over the past 20 years the committee has been able to give a total of $352,000 to both organizations. Additionally, the committee awards a college scholarship in John Henzel’s name and also allocates funds to the Penn York Golf program for young area golfers.
Penn York was established in 1970 by Dr. Bob Davis, a well known physician in the area and nephew of E Boyd Fitzpatrick. Tournament champ, Ed Forrest (1971) took it over the following year. In time, his sons Kevin and John began to coordinate the program and today, John (1986, 1987, 2002 champ) now carries on with organizing more than 100 young players each year, at five area courses. In 2017, Kyle Henzel took over as Director of Penn-York. Ten golfers with the lowest scoring averages from the program are chosen to play in the Men’s Amateur each year and as a reward the committee awards them free entry fee into the tournament.
Much attention has been given to the junior golfers over the years. In 1986, as part of the 50th anniversary of the tournament, Chris Henzel, with the help of many, organized a tour for 18 teenage golfers. In one week, he took the group to play at six courses – Moonbrook, Crag Burn, Bristol Harbour, En Joie, Glen Abbey, and Niagara Falls Country Club. It was an experience none will forget.
Besides alternating the courses in previous years, the SWNY-NWPA Men’s Amateur has offered some unique experiences. Two-day qualifiers were held for a few years at two different courses but for its 50th anniversary, the tournament hosted a three-day qualifier at Elkdale, PennHills, and Bartlett. In addition to medalist, a junior medalist is also recognized each year.
The Men’s Amateur is steeped in tradition and by happenstance, coincides with the Augusta National’s Masters Golf Tournament. They were both established the same year and interrupted play the same three years during the war. Both are celebrating their 85th anniversary in 2021.
Past winners may not have been cloaked with a fabled green jacket but enduring the four or five day match play to win the championship cup was all they needed. The list is too long to name everyone but familiar players like Mike Shane, Ted Kochan, Frank Higgins, Jr., Bob Gunnell, Gene Fazio, Kirk Stauffer, Paul Stetz, Dan Stetz, Tim Klimczyk, Tom Crist, Jim Brady, Scott Crist, Eric McHone, and Chris Blocher are just a few who outlasted their opponents to become champion.
The top 32 players who emerge from the qualifier make up the Championship bracket but there are several more brackets and though one may not be in the top 32, there are plenty of opportunities to walk away with a trophy. There are champions in each bracket, further demonstrating that golfers of all levels can enjoy the challenge of the head-to-head play. That is what is so enticing about this tournament.
The Men’s Amateur renews old friendships and welcomes new ones each year to experience a tournament that offers match play for golfers of all ages and talents. Much will not change for its 85th celebration but perhaps we’ll see some unique additions so stay tuned.