Bellringer Golf Classic fast approaching

Twenty-one years ago, Gene Kennedy decided to host a golf tournament — in December.

The chief executive officer of the Land Title Company of Kitsap County, an avid golfer himself, wanted to combine his passion with a fundraising effort.

So what better than to host a golf tournament, giving the proceeds to charity?

“I wanted to do something myself,” Kennedy said, remembering a day in 1988 when he was sitting in the clubhouse at the Kitsap County Golf & Country Club with a group of friends. “I said, ‘Let’s all just throw 20 bucks in, play a round of golf and I’ll give the winner 20 bucks. I’ll take the rest to the bellringer.’ That was the germination of the golf tournament.”

The tournament has since grown in popularity and generosity, drawing an average of 60 golfers who pay $50 for a round of golf and laughs — rain or shine — with the money going to the Salvation Army and area food banks.

Kennedy knows of no other local golf tournament in Decemeber — this year’s tournament begins with a shotgun start at 11 a.m. Dec. 3 at the Kitsap County Golf & Country Club — which makes the round of play all the more exciting.

The participation fee has remained $50 since the second tournament in 1989, and Kennedy has no plans to increase it because it’s “a nice round number.” Donations are accepted.

“It’s really become a fun way to raise money,” he said. “It’s a real high for everybody.”

Weather forced the tournament to be cancelled twice — in 1990 and 1992 when it snowed. One player, Gerry Lyman, even played one year despite being hit in the face by a golf club at the first tee. He received stitches, but not before playing his round of golf.

“It’s got kind of a cult following, if you can call it that,” said Land Title’s Susan Larsen.

Kennedy also awards gifts to the tournament winners, ranging from golf bags, golf balls, glove holders and hats.

“It’s getting harder and harder to come up with new ideas,” he said, laughing.

Humbled by the experience because it brings the community together and raises funds for those who aren’t in a position to do so themselves, Kennedy has no plans to stop the event.

And with the economy struggling and holidays looming, he believes there is no better time than now to participate in the golf tournament.

“My intention all along was to give every penny back to the community,” Kennedy said. “The food banks need us more than ever.”

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