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West Virginia Open: WVGA is growing in all facets under executive director

VIENNA, W.Va. -- There is a way to quantify what 1993 Capital High School graduate Ken Tackett has done for the West Virginia Golf Association.

The WVGA's executive director since 2006 has helped double the revenue the association brings in - going from $600,000 annually to $1.2 million.

The West Virginia Open - in its 80th year - returned to the Parkersburg Country Club this week for the first time since 1983. Prior to then, the Open was last played at the Vienna location in 1953.

Six-time champion David Bradshaw holds a three-shot lead entering the final round of the 54-hole championship, which is, along with the State Amateur, the crown jewel of the WVGA season.

 "I can't really tell you why we took so long (to come back)," Tackett said on Thursday. "It won't be 30 years before we come back. Parkersburg will probably be part of an eight-year cycle."

Its return to Parkersburg included a celebration of the life of former club pro Larry Martin, who is credited for bringing junior golf to the Mountain State. Martin was set to be the chairman of the championship's return to Parkersburg, which is the biggest club on the WVGA circuit, boasting more than 600 WVGA members.

As for the season, it has grown exponentially in the seven years Tackett has been in charge.

The Senior Series and Top-Flite Junior Tour (which Martin founded is now the Callaway Junior Tour) were in place along with the other events the WVGA sponsors.

However, the Senior Series now features 22 events and the association has added the Wendy's Amateur Tour to its repertoire of summer dates. Also added under Tackett were the Mid-Amateur championship, the Two-Man Scramble, the Senior Open and a merger with the women's events. The First Tee also has grown.

At the end of the day, Tackett said, "it's for the good of the game."

"Like the Wendy's Am Tour," Tackett said. "The average guy can get out and play competitive, play a nice golf course, have lunch and act like they're part of something. We didn't have that. We were really good at running championships, that's it."

Additionally, the WVGA staff has added seven full-time positions to accommodate the growth of its membership, which has grown 15-20 percent in seven years.

As the WVGA celebrates its 100th anniversary, it also is celebrating a wealth of sponsors to add events like the Coca-Cola Shootout, an elimination tournament in conjunction with the Open that features the top five pros and top five amateurs of the previous season. The signage on holes and throughout the tournament locations has also grown considerably.

Tackett said the point was to find ways to help the game grow in West Virginia with help from multiple places.

"Everyone gave me a hard time when I started, saying we had to grow our corporate sponsorship," Tackett said. "We didn't want them selling out and we're not. Now, we have the money and support to hire staff. We have money coming from corporates and from entries. We went from two fulltime employees to seven fulltime employees.

"That's how you do better. We can't do it with just two or three people."

The game of golf in West Virginia also has been helped with the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic. In its fourth year, the Classic has brought attention to golf that otherwise it might not have received.

Displaying his savvy, Tackett didn't waste that opportunity.

"The Greenbrier Classic brought attention to the game to the masses," he said. "We kind of doubled down on that. 'You're interested now, come play.' If you're a man or woman you can play a Wendy's Am event. If you're older, you can play the Senior Series. Junior Tour sells out.

"There are 11 First Tee sites. We want to get the kids hooked, have fun, learning some core values. Sometimes that gets lost in what the purpose is about why they're playing golf. We're saying, 'By the way, have respect, take your hat off, shake hands, tuck your shirt in.' Those are things that Larry Martin did his whole life. That's what he always talked about."

From the First Tee to this week's Open to the State Amateur Aug. 5-8, the season is full for the WVGA, but it's for a good reason.

"We invest in people," Tackett said. "People say, 'What is that supposed to mean?' Our offices are in a basement. If you have good people, then it's easier to do more programs."

*  *  *

BRADSHAW IS ON track to win his seventh Open and sixth in the last nine years and that fact is not lost on Hurricane's Sam O'Dell.

On his next-to-last hole and sitting at 4-under for the tournament (two strokes behind Bradshaw), O'Dell opted for an aggressive approach on the No. 8 hole.

The result was a lost ball and a double bogey. He birdied No. 9 to join the lead group today that includes Bradshaw and Woody Woodward.

"What, was Bradshaw at six?" O'Dell said. "It's aggressive to the number. Bradshaw isn't going to come back to you. He's always going to be tough to beat. The field too, with Clarky (two-time champion Jonathan Clark) and Berner (2005 champion Craig Berner) not being here. It kind of set up. Bradshaw might have a so-so round, if I get hot and get the putter rolling, I don't know."

Bradshaw had just one bogey in each of the first two rounds, while finishing with a par and a birdie on No. 8.

That was the third-toughest hole in the first two rounds, with the most double bogeys (38) and the second-most bogeys (85).

There were just seven eagles in 36 holes among 120 players.

*  *  *

PARKERSBURG 56-year-old Scott Bibbee, who has three Senior Amateur championships, is just five strokes behind Bradshaw, entering the final round at 1-under par.

Bibbee, who said he has played in "15 or 20" West Virginia Open championships, never has gone into the final 18 holes under par.

"I'm happy to a certain point, but that's my home course so I'm confident playing there," Bibbee said. "I had it 2-under twice today. I'm still very happy."

He admits much has to happen for him to catch up to Bradshaw.

"I have to shoot the round of my life (Friday) to have a chance, and maybe three or four below that," he said. "Long ways to catch Bradshaw. I'm still very happy."

*  *  *

THURSDAY WAS cut-down day at the Open with the top 60 plus ties earning a spot in today's final 18 holes.

Just six players are under par - Bradshaw (-6), Woodward (-3), O'Dell (-2), John Ross (-1), Bob Friend (-1) and Scott Bibbee (-1).

Among the players sliding under the bar were Scott Depot's Chris Williams and Charleston's Will Evans.

*  *  *

THE OPEN will return to the Cobb Course at The Resort at Glade Springs next year for the first time since 2006.

That year Bradshaw won by one stroke over three players. Its last visit to Daniels prior to that year was 1987 when Harold Payne won the championship by eight strokes over Cleve Coldwater.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.


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