1976 was the first year for the Mille Lacs Classic, an amateur golf tournament hosted by Mille Lacs Golf Resort. The annual golf tournament that lasted 28 years, until our golf course was sold.
Panic! The entry’s were not coming in as I had projected; special tournament shirts for all the participants and prizes for five full flights had been purchased. We were looking for players everywhere. I made an impassioned plea to friends to help me find players. I told my employees that their job might depend on finding more players.
Howard showed up in the pro shop late Thursday afternoon prior to the Saturday’s first round of the inaugural tournament. “Hi I am Howard Nearheim, I live across the road and I understand you are looking for a few more players to fill your tournament. I haven’t played much lately but I would be happy to help you out.”
“Thanks”, I said. “What kind of player are you?” With a puzzled look on his red alcohol-veined face and his hands on his beer gut, Howard said, “what do you mean, what kind of player am I?”
“I mean how good a golfer are you? I want to put you with players that play about like you do. That way everyone feel more comfortable.”
Howard thought for a few seconds looking at the floor, then said, “Well I never did play very much so I am not too good. I just want to support the area and the tournament so put me with anyone.”
Howard wrote a check for his entry fee and as he started to leave, he turned and said, “What time should I be here Saturday?”
I took a quick look at the tee sheet searching for some players who might not mind playing with a golfer that I figured would shoot around 100. Finding a threesome of good guys I knew would be okay playing with him, I responded, “How about 8:30?” “See you then,” Howard responded as he headed to the grill upstairs for a beer.
Saturday morning 8:30, cold, rain and no Howard. I sent the threesome off without Howard. As the final player in the following group hit his tee shot, Howard came running up to the tee.
In all my years of golf I have never seen anything like this.
Howard was dressed in a full length plastic, Army issue, rain coat and a pair old white “Chuck Taylor” basketball shoes. On his head he had a red plaid hunting cap with the ear-flaps down, but not tied. In his very old oblong canvas bag, that he was carrying like a quiver full of arrows, he had a driver, with black tape wrapped where the head and shaft connect, three mis-matched irons and a putter that looked like a two iron. I wanted to laugh, but kept a straight face. Before I could speak, Howard said, “Sorry I am late. What do you want me to do?”
My mind raced, as the following group stood there waiting. In a real tournament Howard would be DQ-ed; his group had hit their second shots. My first tournament and I did not want to piss-off anybody, especially a local who was trying to help out. So I said, “hey Howard, just go to the second tee and start there with your group. When you finish 18, I will work you in and you can play number 1.”
About five hours later, with the sun now shining, I felt a tap on my shoulder. As I turned, I did utter a little laugh. There stood Howard, looking like a drowned rat. His hunting cap was soaked and had lost all it shape. The thick bill of the cap, heavy with water, hung down over his eyes so that he had to lean his head back to look me in the eye as he said, “the guys don’t want to go play number 1 with me so I need a person to be a scorer… so people don’t think I cheated.”
As I looked Howard up and down, I noticed that both the sleeves of the full length rain coat, that he still had on, were ripped off like a shirt worn by “Larry the cable guy”, I asked, “how is it going so far?”
Howard got a slight grin and said, “I have 143 so far, but I did get a four on number 12. The guys were nice they gave me a few balls.”
With the serious look of a “tournament chairman” on my face, I said to Howard, “just go up to the first tee and play number 1. Then report back to me. If anyone questions your integrity, I will stand up for you.”
Over the years, I grew to appreciate Howard. He was a kind and caring man. Howard was a very intelligent and eccentric electrical engineer who was generous to a fault. His favorite pastime was to drink beer and talk philosophy. Howard would buy the beer as long as you would sir and listen.
His score, 151, was the all time high score in the Mille Lacs Classic.