Chattanooga Golf Clubs’ Storied Rivalry Plays On At Haskew Cup
The rivalry between Black Creek Club and Signal Mountain Golf & Country Club is 15 years strong. Giving players of all handicaps a chance to experience tournament play, the undertone is simple: You don’t want to lose at home.
By Camille Platt
If you’re the protagonist of a memorable moment in one of the longest running sports rivalries in Chattanooga, you’re guaranteed to hear about it again. The golfers at Black Creek Club and Signal Mountain Golf & Country Club have kept up their fierce but friendly annual tournament – now known as the Haskew Cup – since 2003. And the tradition is anchored in stories retold throughout the year … like the time a ball ricocheted off the rocks and hit a player in the leg, resulting in a trip to the hospital only to be diagnosed with a bruise. The Caddyshack-inspired “Oh, my arm! It’s broken!” jokes still circulate to this day. Or the time Chuck Schmidt got a hole-in-one playing for Signal Mountain against Scott Parrish. Vestal Allen recalls the day his partner, Gerald LeVan, was shooting from Hole 2 at Black Creek and accidentally aimed for the green on Hole 3 instead. “He had an odd way of lining up. I didn’t think too much of it. And suddenly, when I finally figured out what he was doing, before I could stop him, he hit the ball,” Allen recalls with a laugh. “I said, ‘You did hit that flush, partner, but the problem is you hit it at the wrong green. You almost killed those guys on No. 3 tee.’ We laughed the whole front nine. And I never let Gerald forget it.”
Carrying on the comedic, stir-the-pot competitive nature of the tournament’s late co-founder Gary Haskew, the two clubs have taken turns hosting the event since its inception.
The Black Creek team celebrates a win in 2003’s inaugural event.
How It All Began
The original idea for the tournament brewed between Haskew and Wayne Palmer over a cup of coffee and a doughnut. (Well, for Haskew, it was always a Honey Bun.) Pondering the Oehmig Cup between Chattanooga Golf & Country Club and Lookout Mountain Club, which only admits the best 12 players from each side, Palmer lamented there wasn’t a local tournament for players of all handicaps. “That’s really all it took,” Palmer recalls of his friend, who was the co-host of Talk Radio 102.3 SportsTalk and known as Dr. B. “Once you planted a seed in Gary’s head, and it’s something that he liked, Gary was your best ally to make it happen.” Leadership at Black Creek Club, where Haskew was a member, and Signal Mountain Golf & Country Club, where Palmer was a member, gave them the green light for an intentional rivalry anchored by a new annual event.
Initially, the tournament was called the Brantley Cup, as Ed Brantley was a long-time member at Signal Mountain who had participated in the U.S. Open twice and was inducted into the Tennessee Golf Hall of Fame in 2002. After two years off in 2011 and 2012, the event returned and was renamed the Challenge Cup. After Haskew passed away in 2016, the players decided to honor his contribution to Chattanooga golf by renaming the cup again in his honor. This past August was the tournament’s fourth year as the Haskew Cup.
“Homefield advantage is a big, big part of the tournament. That’s why we really like to go to Signal and hurt their feelings.”
– Mitch Hufstetler, Black Creek Club
“Gary was famous for always saying, ‘There’s golf, and then there’s tournament golf.’ For golfers, that’s two different things,” Palmer explains. “Playing on the weekend with your buddies in a $2 Nassau or a $20 game is always fun, but there is just something special when you are playing for pride and representing your club.”
Signal Mountain’s Frank Hollowell says for him, the third year of the tournament, in 2005, was key. Signal Mountain had lost to Black Creek two years in a row, and they needed a win to solidify the rivalry. “In a strange way, that was important, because if there’s not a back and forth, it doesn’t become a cup; it doesn’t become a challenge,” he says. To drum up interest, Hollowell sent cards in the mail to other Signal Mountain players, asking for participation and referring to his rivals as “the Heathens from the Valley.” “That’s one of the reasons it has lasted as many years as it has. It’s truly something everybody enjoys,” he says. “And we beat ‘em pretty good that year. It was important to win and create a team.”
“Playing on the weekend with your buddies in a $2 Nassau or a $20 game is always fun, but there is just something special when you are playing for pride and representing your club.”
– Wayne Palmer, Tournament Co-Founder, Signal Mountain Golf & Country Club
The Major Players
Today, local golfers who make the Haskew Cup competitive include Richard Spangler, who has a McLemore men’s metro win and played at Middle Tennessee State University; Ryan Frame, who also played golf at Lipscomb University; Mitch Hufstetler, who won the senior championships in all four local invitationals in 2014; Tyler Nelson, who played at Lee University; and Bobby Perry, who played basketball for the University of Kentucky and has become an accomplished tournament golfer.
In addition to the diversity of the playing field, the difference between the courses keeps things interesting. Black Creek General Manager Sean Rice says his course pays tribute to a Seth Raynor/C.B. Macdonald course from the 1920s and 1930s. “In the modern game, the player hits the ball longer, so the course accommodates that,” he explains. “We have some other neat features, which a lot of people don’t necessarily understand. We have some squared-off bunkers, squared-off greens; there are certain angles you have to hit in order to have a strategy to play the golf course.” The distance makes Black Creek a challenge for the mountain players.
Signal Mountain Golf & Country Club, on the other hand, is about 600 yards shorter. “It requires good players to know how to hit golf shots that fade to the right or draw to the left, and because it is a smaller golf course, the fairways are narrow, so there’s a premium getting the ball into the fairway,” Palmer says. When asked if there’s a hole he looks forward to playing when Signal Mountain hosts, Hufstetler’s answer is brief: Nah. “I’m not a mountain course guy because with mountain golf courses, you seriously have to know which way is off the mountain. Every mountain course I’ve ever played has a predominant way. At Signal Mountain, if you hit it exactly where you’re trying to, you can play. If you miss, Signal Mountain will jump up and spank you.
“Homefield advantage is a big, big part of the tournament,” Hufstetler adds with intensity. “That’s why we really like to go to Signal and hurt their feelings.”
The Haskew Cup weekend begins with a Friday night party at the host club for tournament pairings, with 28 team members on each side. The players bring their spouses for a cocktail hour and a buffet, followed by back-and-forth pairings announcements by captains from each team. The tournament is modeled after the Ryder Cup format. There’s a championship division, which has six players per team, as well as four spots each in Handicap 3-6, Handicap 6-9, and Handicap 9-12. Two spots per team are up for grabs in Handicap 12+. The tournament also includes a division for Senior (55-64), Senior 7+, and Super Senior (65 and over). Saturday morning is Foursomes, which is best ball. “In other words, if you and I are partners, we are going to play two guys from the other team, and the best score between the two of us on each hole is the score we’ll record on the card,” Palmer explains. After 18 holes, if your pair is up, your club gets a point. In the afternoon, it’s Four-Ball, which is alternate shots. (If your partner puts the ball into the sand or under a tree, you get to hit it out.) Sunday is individual play. “We reach out across all skill levels. I don’t care if you’re a 12 handicap. Your point – because you can earn points as you win matches – is just as important as a zero-handicap player.”
The Spirit of the Game
It’s the memories – some side-splitting, others tense – that highlight 15 years of competition between Black Creek Club and Signal Mountain Golf & Country Club. There have been downright silly celebrations, like the time Haskew and friends eased into the fountain at Black Creek in a tribute to the LPGA Majors leap into the lake at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course in California. There have been temper-tempting putts, like the time another player launched his putter into the kudzu, then realized he couldn’t finish the round because it couldn’t be found. There have been tall promises, like Black Creek President Doug Stein’s standing offer to eat a can of Alpo dog food in 2016 and 2018 if Signal Mountain were to win at Black Creek.
Gary Haskew, known as Dr. B on local sports radio, co-founded the rivalry between Black Creek Club and Signal Mountain Golf & Country Club. He’s remembered as a gentleman when it came to sportsmanship, but the originator of the competitive talk enjoyed today. “I don’t know how to describe it,” says Todd McKittrick, who worked as a golf pro at Black Creek Club for 11 years. “He’d launch a grenade in a crowd and just sit back and listen and have people fight it out. He was the absolute master at creating healthy arguments and debates, especially about sports. And the more local the better.”
Palmer’s memories center on unlikely friendships and teammates putting pressure on each other for strategic play. In 2009, he convinced Bill Kirk to go good-good on a putt on Hole 8 during an individual match on Signal Mountain. Kirk was behind, and Haskew – always playing coach – chewed him out for not giving Palmer a chance to miss. The very next year, the pair found themselves in a nearly identical situation. Palmer offered Kirk good-good again. “He said, ‘Absolutely not. I’ve learned my lesson,’” Palmer remembers with a laugh. “He made his putt. I missed mine. We ended up tying the last hole, so we halved the match.”
Hufstetler likes to grin about the time he and John Lambert were playing Andy McDaniel and Scott Patton in alternate shot and bogeyed the first hole, then played five under until Hole 15. Their competitors had a putt to extend the match. “Johnny and I looked at each other going, ‘It’s over.’ We knew if he hit it there, it was not going to go in,” he recalls. “He didn’t make the putt. We shake hands, and we’re driving off, and they’re still down there putting the putt because they just couldn’t believe it didn’t break.”
The 2017 Signal Mountain team
For all the shooting the breeze on players recruited, shots butchered, and matches won, one of the most lasting memories in 15 years came from Mother Nature herself. At the opening ceremony in 2003 at Signal Mountain, bagpipers were arranged to walk down the No. 1 fairway, but what the players didn’t anticipate was the way the morning dew would create a fog the pipers emerged from as they played “America the Beautiful.” “That was the most chilling moment of this tournament,” Palmer remembers, “and it’s not just for me – it’s for anybody that played in that inaugural event.” Contrasting the formality on-site at Signal Mountain that year, which seems fitting for a club founded in 1922, was Black Creek’s answer to the opening ceremonies the following year. Palmer, Hollowell, and their teammates arrived at Black Creek for day one of the tournament and stood alone, unsure about where their competitors could be. Twenty minutes later, a cavalry of 28 Black Creek golf carts flying American flags, music blaring, came careening down the No. 18 fairway.
Black Creek Club has won the trophy nine times, and Signal Mountain Golf & Country Club five. Despite the results, both sides have bragging rights. Only twice has the cup not been won by the host course, in 2003 and 2017. Reflections on 2017, hosted on Signal Mountain, reveal just how intense the intent to win can be. Palmer clarifies that rain shortened the tournament on both Saturday and Sunday, hinting it wasn’t an honest win. “They retained the cup because they had it the previous year, but technically, even though we had the tournament, it was a rain out,” he says. Hufstetler addresses this statement first and foremost: “All I know is Black Creek had the trophy going on three years, so I’m going to have to say I think it did count. If the golf tournament gets shortened a day, whoever’s leading when it’s over is declared the winner.”
The talk and the teasing, each player agrees, is all in good fun. The purpose of the rivalry is simply to create friendships across clubs and maintain a tradition where any player can feel the pressure of tournament play. It’s also a tribute to the friend they miss dearly who helped start it all. “This is a legacy for Dr. B. It was his process that got it all started,” Hollowell says. “He could stir the pot with the best of them, and he made it fun.” CS
No. 16 at Black Creek Club