May 13, 2014

Chris Whitfield: New championship flight soars at Roman Open

Whether you’re a weekend duffer, a hacker who loves how a slice has become a “power fade” or the winner of your club championship, there couldn’t have been anything wrong with your round at the Roman Open on Monday at Dalton Golf and Country Club.

Regardless of if you sank every birdie putt for your team in the four-man select shot tournament or none of your shots were picked by your teammates to be used, you had a good day on the golf course.

And as usual, the area’s charitable organizations were the biggest winners.

The 39th edition of the tournament — an all-volunteer event — generated another record-breaking result when it comes to raising funds. For the past three years, the event’s organizers have somehow managed to find just a little extra length off the tee in raising money for more than 30 charitable organizations across Gordon, Murray and Whitfield counties.

“I always remember what this tournament is all about because I don’t even play golf,” said Vann Brown, the executive director of Roman Open Charities. “The only reason I do this is for the charities. I personally talk or (visit) with every charity we deal with so we know where the money is going.

“Once you see the needs in our community and fully understand them, you will work yourself to death to meet those needs.”

After topping six digits in charitable contributions in 2013, the tournament reached new heights this year. It is also the third straight year that the tournament has completely sold out its registration to play.

“We’ve already raised $115,000 to give out to local charities, and we have well in excess of $200,000 in requests that have come in,” Brown said. “The cutoff is the end of June, so we will probably receive between $250,000 and $300,000 in requests for funds, and all of them are deserved.”

The tournament has come a long way since it began as a cooperation between local Catholic, Episcopalian and Jewish congregations to rebuild the roof on Dalton’s St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

One of the main additions to the tournament this year was the playing of a “true” championship flight of teams, with the winners based solely on gross score without any score manipulation by handicaps. The Browne, Draper and Land Financial Concepts team of Werner Braun, Jeff Browne, Ben Rickett and Lee Smith won that overall title. Their score of 58 was matched by the Shaw Industries team of Joe Holbrook, Mike Nance, Rick Orr and Julius Shaw, but the championship was decided on a scorecard playoff.

Unlike other flights in both the morning and afternoon tee times, championship flight participants played the course from its full length and the teams did not benefit from any special shots. In the other five flights, each player received a mulligan and each player could hit one shot from the ladies’ tees.

“It was tough, and those gold tees were all the way in the back,” said Dan Peeples, who played on the third-place Julian Peeples Funeral Home team. “We had to make a lot of putts today. We had a lot of fun and the competition was really top-notch, and I liked it because it really brings a lot more skill involved.”

Brown said the championship flight’s debut was a success and that it’s “going to be interesting to see where that goes from here.”

“It was a lot more successful than we thought it was going to be,” he said. “We were targeting 10 teams, and had to have at least six to put it on, and got nine. We would have had a full championship flight, but a few teams didn’t know about it or had to play in the afternoon flight. I fully expect the championship flight to be sold out next year.”

Brown said there are many possibilities — including spinning the championship flight off of the Roman Open.

“What we have talked about it is making the championship flight its own separate tournament,” Brown said. “But it all depends on interest. They pay more money to be in that championship flight, but if we can support it we will do it. Whatever raises the most money is what we will do. It really doesn’t matter how we do the tournament. It is, how do we get the most money to the charities?”

That’s because it is the charities that matter most to all involved in the organizing of the Roman Open. With a 30-member board that begins work each new year and a volunteer staff of more than 100, Brown said all of the effort is worth it when the money and services raised by the tournament find their way to the charities that need it.

“If you go to the homeless shelters and go to the food banks and go to (Cherokee Estate, a Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Home) you meet the people and you meet the kids and your heart goes out to them,” Brown said. “There are so many needs here, and I have just never seen a more philanthropic society than what we have here. If you ask, people will give. It is a phenomenal community.”

Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at

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