A Buncombe County golf tradition since 1960 returns this week with big news and a promising future.
After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the 61st Skyview Pro-Am Golf Tournament is set for July 13-15 at Asheville Golf Course. The Skyview Golf Association, which conducts the 54-hole stroke play event, has entered into a multi-year sponsorship agreement with Calloway Golf, which will allow the tournament to increase its purse for the pro division and provide quality Calloway prizes for amateur flight winners and high finishers. The tournament was first held in 1960 as an all-Black event. The Skyview All-Negro Open featured a small field and a $300 purse. The announced purse for this year’s tournament is $29,000, with the winner earning $5,500. Both of those figures are more than any other Skyview purse and winner’s share. “The union between Calloway and Skyview will do much to elevate Skyview’s presence on the national golf scene,” said SGA president Lee Shepard.
More than 100 players from 13 different states have pre-registered for the tournament in five divisions - pro, senior pro, amateur, senior amateur and women. The two-time defending pro champion is Greg Parker of Marion, who has won the event a record eight times. Over the past two Skyview tourneys (2018-19), Parker played 108 holes in 41 under par, including a round of 10-under 62 in 2018 and a 63 in 2019 at AGC, a par-72 Donald Ross layout. Parker tied a Skyview record with a 20-under total of 196 in 2018 and established a new mark in 2019 with a 21-under 195. Asheville pro Noah Ratner, the 2015 and ‘16 winner, has shot 18-under and -15 under in the last two Skyviews and finished second to Parker each time. Parker and Ratner are both expected to play this year.
Also in the field is Royce Thompson, the social media director of Calloway Golf who plans to shoot videos and live stream the Skyview. Another interesting entry is former long drive competitor Roger Steele, who founded Hipe Golf, which works to improve diversity and inclusion in golf.
Growing the Skyview
Two years after starting the all-Black tourney, founder and director Charles Collette and others in the SGA decided to admit Causcasians, and the event has been a blend of races ever since.
In its heyday, the Skyview featured players like Charles Sifford and Lee Elder and celebrities that included world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis. Elder, a PGA Tour winner and the first Black golfer to play in The Masters, won the Skyview four straight years (1962-65), a record that still stands. After Collette died in the early 1970s, Billy Gardenhight took over as tournament director, a role he continued for more than 40 years. Under Gardenhight’s leadership, the Skyview grew to become Buncombe County’s largest golf tournament, but health issues forced Gardenhight to hand over the leadership role to Shepard, his stepson. At the height of its popularity 20 to 30 years ago, the Skyview was a regular stop on the Black North American Golf Association Tour, and more than 200 local and national players would compete at “The Muni,” as the Asheville Golf Course has long been called.
The traditional second week of July event was more than a three-day golf tourney. For the Black community it was also a party, a homecoming of sorts and a social gathering. A downtown dance during Skyview week would draw as many as 1,000 people. Calloway’s interest and subsequent involvement in the tournament grew out of the company’s sponsorship of “The Muni,” a documentary about AGC and Skyview by Asheville filmmaker Paul Bonesteel that had several airings on The Golf Channel earlier this year. “We were excited to sponsor the documentary and to help share the Asheville Muni’s story with a wider audience,” Calloway spokesman Jeff Newton told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “As we became more directly involved, we also wanted to focus on supporting the Skyview Golf Tournament and its legacy of outstanding events and talented players.”
Interest in the tourney had dwindled in recent years, with a field of less than 50 golfers a few years ago, but a renewed effort in sponsorship helped draw 98 players to the 2019 tourney. Tournament organizers believe the documentary and Calloway’s partnership will create more excitement and opportunities for the event. Shepard says plans are in place to rebuild the Skyview Youth Sportsmanship Academy, which provides scholarships to minority students, and to host a women’s tournament. "The Skyview Tournament has always been beneficial to Asheville and Buncombe County, and we hope to continue to serve that purpose for many years to come," said Matthew Bacoate Jr., who has been an administrator and consultant to SGA since 2016 and has been instrumental in providing increased sponsorship. "The partnership of Calloway is going to do so much to elevate Skyview's image in many ways."
A limited number of spots still remain for the tourney. Entry fee is $215 for amateurs, $525 for pros. Players can register online at skyviewgolfasheville.com or by calling Ivory Walker at 828-774-5534. Amateurs tee off at 8 a.m. each day and the pros begin at 2 p.m.