By Ryan Divish
Juan "Chi Chi" Rodriguez has walked on some of golf's most hallowed grounds. He has seen the azaleas bloom at Augusta National, played the road hole at St. Andrew's and battled the wind and rain at Pebble Beach.
Now, Chi Chi can add battling the wind, heat and bugs of the Hi-Line to his distinguished resume. Rodriguez, a former PGA and current Senior PGA tour player, is in Havre today and will be heading to Chinook tonight for a fund-raising exhibition at the Chinook Golf and Country Club on Saturday.
For people not familiar with Rodriguez, ask yourself this question. "Have you ever taken your putter after sinking a tough puttand had a sword fight with an imaginary adversary? Well, it's Rodriguez who made that his signature.
In his career, Rodriguez has won a combined 30 tournaments on both the regular and senior tours and earned over $7 million in prize money.
But he isn't just a golfer, Rodriguez is also a true humanitarian. He has won a myriad of awards for his generosity and general concern for the the welfare of children. He has spent countless hours building and maintaining The Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation. The foundation, located in Clearwater, Fla. is a home to troubled and abused youngsters.
"I figure kids are the future," Rodriguez said on the foundation website. "If I made it, anybody can do it. I think I can be a good role model for them because they can look at me and say, look, he's a small guy, he was very poor, and he worked hard and he made it.' If I can help one kid become successful in life because they want to be the way I was, that's all I ask for."
A question remains though. How did Chi Chi exactly come to the Hi-Line? According to exhibition director Dave Boles, Rodriguez, who is sponsored by Toyota, is here thanks to an idea started a few years ago during the Chinook All-Class Reunion golf tournament. At that time, the Chinook golf course was without a clubhouse having burned down. Dave Illingworth, senior vice president, chief planning officer of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc., was playing in the tournament because his wife, a Chinook grad, and he mentioned the possibility of bringing in Rodriguez for a possible fund raiser to build a new club house.
Although the clubhouse been rebuilt, the Rodriguez exhibition will still help raise funds for the golf course as well as the MSU-Northern women's golf team.
"We tried to put it together last year," Boles said. "But with 9/11 and things, we decided to wait until this year."
Rodriguez will be pretty busy while he's here. Today, he will be at G & B Motors at 4 p.m. meeting with people. He will then travel to Chinook for a benefit dinner tonight at the country club. The "pitchfork fondue" will be open to the public at a cost of $15 a person.
"It should be fun," Boles said. "We'll just relax and enjoy Chi Chi's presence and Dave Illingworth will also speak at the dinner."
On Saturday, Rodriguez will put on a skills clinic at 10 a.m. which should be very interesting. Known as one of the most creative shot makers in golf Rodriguez will use an assortment of props to put on a show.
Following the skills clinic, Rodriguez will play a pair of nine hole rounds with eight different people. On the first nine, Great Falls sports anchor Scott Heinle of KRTV, Toni Bickford, a standout golfer for the Skylights golf team, Brett Gilman, the 2002 Beaver Creek golf course club champion and course superintendent, and Burke Barlow of G & B Motors will play with Rodriguez.
On the second nine, Dick Fisher of Fort Benton's Signal Point golf course will join Larry Azure Sr. who won a qualifying tournament to play. They will be joined by Havre Public Works Director Dave Peterson who will be playing in place of Boles. The final competitor was supposed to be Havre High math teacher Mary Wagner who won a drawing to play. However, Wagner will caddie and have her husband, Dan, play instead.
Tickets for the event are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12 for today. On Saturday, those prices will increase by $2.
Boles and his workers are more than prepared for a large crowd. They have installed bleachers around the clubhouse for the skills exhibition and will have three concession stands featuring plenty of food choices. The Skylights golf team will be selling beer during the event.
For additional information or tickets people can contact, The Chinook Barber Shop at 357-2909.