Charity golf tournaments, particularly those without the clout of celebrity participants, tend to come and go no matter the nature of the cause.
Most simply don’t have the lifespan to last more than a few years for a variety of reasons, be it logistical or the natural decline in interest.
Reaching a silver anniversary in an event such as the Craig Bukosky Junior Golf Open is indeed a rarity. It has far exceeded the expectations of founder Mike Bukosky, and it has more than doubled the time the tournament’s namesake spent on earth.
“We figured once Craig’s graduating class, which would have been in 2002, had gone through playing out of respect for their friend, that would have been about it,” Mike said. “By then, we thought nobody would show up anymore. We were wrong. It just exploded.”
The 25th annual Bukosky tournament will be next Sunday at Wildflower Country Club for golfers between the ages of 7 and 18. Because of the circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic, this milestone year was in jeopardy until the coast was deemed to be clear for a tournament that usually features around 125 participants. The last Monday in July has been a staple date since it began, but it is good to go on a Sunday for the first time so as not to interfere with fall school activities.
On the golf side, the event has provided a relatively uncommon opportunity for local youth golfers to stay close to home and compete for a nominal fee. On the charitable side, the tournament for many years provided college scholarship money for worthy Temple High School athletes and is now a significant driver for funding of Ralph Wilson Youth Center.
Craig Bukosky succumbed to leukemia as a 12-year-old in 1996. He was a vibrant boy who enjoyed playing a variety of sports. His father explained that when Craig was sick, the only sport he was able to play was golf.
Mike hatched the idea for a benefit tournament in a meeting room at the old Temple Country Club with Bill Euler and Jeff Thomasson — former instructional professionals at Wildflower Country and Sammons Golf Course, respectively — along with businessman Roger Daniels.
Since Craig was so young, Mike determined that the tournament should be a youth event instead of another adult outing. It was that stroke of genius that provided the tournament the staying power it has enjoyed. Outside of occasional school-related tournaments, local courses haven’t hosted many junior competitions, which made the prospect of doing so especially attractive. The tournament bounced back and forth between Wildflower and Sammons for a time before permanently residing at Wildflower.
Rather than having the proceeds go toward a national organization to fight leukemia or cancer, Mike wanted to help local youth.
“I’m not knocking those (organizations) at all, but I know those groups have staff with big salaries,” he said. “I didn’t want to give money somewhere that I didn’t know where it was going. I want to know where the money is going.
“We’re thrilled that RWYC has partnered with us. It’s intended to support all those kids to attend a sports camp and go to a Dallas Cowboys game and run on the (field).”
The athletic field near the center is named for Craig and provides a common space for youngsters to play.
“It has provided a new chapter for the youth club,” Mike said.
The tournament has been bolstered by an increase in girls participating in significant numbers. Those playing are typically from Bell County but some travel from as far north as Waco and south to Georgetown for a true Central Texas feel. It’s a well-organized machine with teams of volunteers.
From the start, it has been imperative that all players come away with tangible items to take away from the tournament, regardless of their scorecards. The tournament winners receive an Open Championship-style claret jug trophy. All players will come away with personalized bag tags, leather pouches, balls, tees, hats and towels. To comply with governmental guidelines, boxed lunches will be provided. Not too shabby for a $20 admission fee.
Mike often tells the story of an encounter his wife Judy had with an 8-year-old player in the tournament many years ago. The player asked Judy if he could meet Craig. She asked him why. His response was that he had been looking for him to thank him for all he has given.
“She lost it and she told me that as long as the kids are coming, we’re going to do this tournament,” Mike said. “The kids in his class are now 36 years old, and we always have one or two show up to tells us they haven’t forgotten.”
Of course, there are now some 3,000 youngsters who know nothing of Craig Bukosky other than the name but have benefited from his short life through a tournament that has outlasted anyone’s expectations and imagination for it.
“We never dreamed that something like this built out of emotion would last this long,” Mike said. “It’s something we wanted to do. Our son had an impact.”