By George Ferguson
Eight very nervous but excited golfers showed up at the Chinook Golf and Country Club Saturday morning to play nine holes of golf.
However, it wasn't just a typical day of golf in north-central Montana. Yes, the wind was blowing and the mosquitoes were thick, but the unusual thing about this day was that these eight local players would be playing golf with world famous PGA Senior Tour star Chi Chi Rodriguez as part of the Bear Paw Classic Golf Exhibition
The event was organized to raise money for the Chinook Golf and Country Club and the Montana State University-Northern Skylight golf program.
Rodriguez was there to play a round of golf and help raise some money for a worthy cause, and throughout the day he entertained the crowd with his trademark showmanship and enthusiasm.
A crowd of about 150 spectators gathered to watch Rodriguez give a very humorous but informative instructional clinic before teeing off to play the front nine with locals Brett Gilman, the course superintendent at Beaver Creek Golf Course; Toni Bickford, a member of the MSU-N golf team; Scott Heinle of KRTV in Great Falls; and Burke Barlow, regional manager of the Toyota corporation.
While Chi Chi dazzled the crowd, many of whom had never seen a golfer of his caliber in person, several of the competitors also played very well. Gilman finished with a solid one-over-par 37. Bickford posted a 38. Barlow came in next with a 3-over 39. Heinle shot a 45 but also played very well at times.
The morning's low score, of course, would belong to Rodriguez. He carded a 3-under-par 33 on the front side, with three birdies and six solid pars.
Gilman was thoroughly impressed with Rodriguez's command of his game.
"You can definitely see that he has been playing golf for a very long time," Gilman said. "For him to go out there without ever seeing the course and shoot a 33 was very impressive to watch."
Gilman was also impressed with how well Rodriguez can still hit the ball at his age.
"He still has a lot of talent," Gilman said. "He can still hit the ball as far as anybody out there."
As for Gilman, he was also happy with the way he played given the circumstances.
"I was very nervous most of the round," Gilman said. "Especially when we teed off on the first hole, because I've never experienced that many people watching me play golf before. But I was happy with the way I played."
Bickford was also fighting a little case of the nerves when the round began.
"I was really nervous on the first tee," Bickford said. "With all those people, I was just telling myself to hit it somewhere down the middle."
After a short break the next four competitors stepped onto the tee box to play the back nine. That group consisted of Fort Benton's Dick Fisher, Larry Azure Sr., Havre public works director Dave Peterson, and Dan Wagner.
On the back nine, Chi Chi as expected carded the low round with a 4-under-par 32. Peterson and Wagner both played very well, coming in with scores of 39. Fisher fired a 5-over-par 41 while Azure shot a 44. Rodriguez's 18-hole total for the day would be an outstanding 7-under-par 65.
While golf was the order of the day, everybody who attended seemed to take something special away from the event, including Gilman and Bickford.
"He (Rodriguez) is a great human being," Gilman said. "I think he would be a popular person even if he wasn't a famous golfer because he is just such a good man."
"He is a really nice person and he makes you feel so comfortable when you're around him," Bickford added. "This is definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life."