The Sunny King Charity Classic is three days of golf and two nights of parties.
To many players and their significant others, the 19th hole is just as important as the first 18 — if not more so.
“I would say the top 10 teams probably wouldn’t care if there was a party or not,” said Benji Turley, a tourney veteran and one of its most competitive players “The other 194 teams in it, they all care about the parties probably more than they do the golf.”
The 32nd annual King Classic gets under way with today’s first round at Anniston Country Club, Silver Lakes and Cider Ridge, followed by a party at the country club.
Then comes Saturday’s second round, followed by a gathering on the McClellan sports fields.
The tournament concludes with Sunday’s final round.
With all of the events on the social calendar in Anniston — from Maskers to Revelers to the Empty Stocking Gala — the tourney has carved out a niche.
“It’s much broader,” said ex-Anniston mayor Chip Howell, now Anniston Country Club’s general manager. “You have people who were childhood friends of friends that come back. It’s almost like a class reunion-spring break-invitational type of event.”
Most of the 408 golfers are from the Anniston area, but many out-of-towners once lived in the area and use the tourney as a pilgrimage back. For them, stories of old times flow as freely as the spirits.
“It leads into late into the evening, and early morning tee times are hard to make when you’re reunited with old friends you don’t see once a year,” Mack Huckaby said.
That’s how it’s been since the tourney’s early days.
At its inception, it was a one-day event, known as the Sam Bird. It became a two-day tourney, and that’s when the social aspect took off.
The management company of the Downtowner Inn was the major corporate sponsor and started the nightly gathering, hosting parties at its facility.
“They were tremendously attended and a little raucous,” Howell said. “ … It’s been an important part for people who like that kind of activity.”
Now, there are two parties, and even the top players go.
“Most of the guys go and hang around,” Turley said. “… You can tell the guys that are wanting to stay and party and the guys who are making an appearance — wanting to see what everybody shot, maybe drink one or two beers and go home.”
Many players have extra motivation to attend the parties, which offer the biggest outlet for so-called golf “widows.” Jaclyn Turley, for instance, asked off from her night-shift job as a respiratory therapist at Baptist Citizens Medical Center in Talladega so she could attend the parties.
“She makes me dance, so I can never get out of there early,” Benji Turley said.
For Carol Hagan, the tourney’s social scene holds a special place.
Her husband, Chris Hagan, is affiliated with the Greater Anniston Professionals Association, which runs the Sunny King. The two first attended the tourney and its parties together shortly after they started dating.
“I love it,” Carol Hagan said. “I get a little disappointed with some of the wives who, by now, are kind of over it after years and years and years, but I try to talk it up to the other women.
“… You’ll see little bit of everything. Some women will get all gussied up, and then some — well, you’ll see a little bit of everything.”
Matt Rogers said the heaviest reveling usually occurs on the first night.
The golfers have tee times on Saturdays and Sundays, some as early as 7:40 a.m. They play five-hour rounds in summer heat, and players on contending teams want to be at their best.
Some check themselves at the parties. Others watch out for teammates.
“My partners over the years, you kind of have to watch them,” Rogers said. “‘Now, you’re cut off after this one.’”
Some carry the party on to other establishments like the Peerless Saloon — and pay the price at tee time. Huckaby recalled just such an occasion.
“I called and called and called my partner; he failed to answer the phone,” he said. “He came up with his leather shoes on.
“We did tee off. I don’t think he played the first two or three holes.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 235-3576.
Sports Editor Bran Strickland and sports writer Al Muskewitz contributed to this report.