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Joe Fortunato event draws largest number of participants in 5 years

NATCHEZ — The Joe Fortunato Celebrity Golf Classic had 30 more participants hit the Duncan Park Golf Course than the averaged 90 golfers in the past five years Saturday.

With 31 teams — half competing early in the morning and the other half playing in the afternoon — Jordan Farmer had his work cut out for him if he planned to repeat last year’s victory.

Alongside Gary Farmer, Zach Estep and Lloyd Trisler, Jordan was able to do so with a score of 48.

Always happy to win, Jordan seemed to be more elated about the great turnout.

“Everyone really pushed it hard,” Jordan said. “We’ve really been trying to get people to come from out of town and play. It used to be a huge tournament, but it’s starting to turn back into that. The problem in the spring is all of the other tournaments. It’s hard for people to play in all of them. It’s for a great cause though, like all of them are.”

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Luke Spillers pumps his fist after his teammate Hunter Ogden sinks a putt at hole No. 2. Ogden, Spillers, Josh Loy and Wes Middleton finished with a 53 in the championship flight.
Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Luke Spillers pumps his fist after his teammate Hunter Ogden sinks a putt at hole No. 2. Ogden, Spillers, Josh Loy and Wes Middleton finished with a 53 in the championship flight.

Making seven eagles, Jordan and his team were feeling it on the golf course, and Jordan was glad he got Estep to come from the University of Southern Mississippi and play alongside him.

“We feed off of each other,” Farmer said. “We both hit the ball great. I made some putts finally.”

Dr. Jeff Anderson, Tom Bryant, Larry Davis and Casey Ham came in second with a 51, while Dustin Ward, Jay Lessley, Paul Guido and Pete Powell shot a 52.

Former Kansas City Chief Nolan Smith, who was the first kick return specialist to ever be drafted into the NFL in 1967, said he’s been coming to the Joe Fortunato Celebrity Golf Classic for the past 20 years, and he would never miss it.

“It’s a brotherhood,” Smith said. “I see the same faces every year. It’s like the NFL. The thing I miss most about the NFL is the locker room and the unity with those players. You get that same feel here.”First place winners of the first flight were George Hude, Greg Brooking, Russ Simonton and Joe Brumfield with a 56. Coming in second behind them after losing the tiebreaker were Louie Brown, Dean Brown, Doug Brown and Dwayne Brown with a 56. Charles Merritt, Eddie Winchester and Jamie Tyson followed behind with a 56 as well.

Patrick Smith, Garrett Rayborn, Eric Stampley and Josh Johns took first in the second flight with a 58, while Ronnie Harris, Malcolm Hall, Richard Probst and Eddie Havard finished in second with a 58. Dee Horton, Brandon Gardner, Courtney Aldridge and Pat Hinson placed third behind them with a 59.

Former major league baseball player and current Delta Charter baseball head coach Jarrett Hoffpauir participated in his first Joe Fortunato golf event ever, and he was impressed with how smoothly the event transpired.

“It’s great to come out here and see people you haven’t seen in a while and have some fun playing in a golf tournament,” Hoffpauir said. “We didn’t play our best round of golf, but we had fun and that’s the main thing.”

Hoffpauir’s team of Heath Davis, Glen Davis and Matt Malone finished third in the third flight with a 61. Chick Graning, Rick Conner, David O’Connor and Linda Gardner finished first in the third flight with a 61, while Sam Kirby, Will Godfrey, Kolby Godfrey and Michael Pace finished second with a 61.

Bubba Spell won the $1,000 balldrop for the second consecutive year.

Brian Fisher and Will Sandel helped organize the event, and both were pleased with the turnout. Fisher said they ramped up the promotion for the event.

“We pushed for new sponsors, new golfers and new advertisements,” Fisher said. “They did great.”

Catherine Fortunato, Joe Fortunato’s wife, ran back and forth from the kitchen to an office where she helped count the scores. Working tirelessly with numerous individuals, Fortunato was grateful for the helping hands by her side.

“I just want to thank everybody that played, supported us and put work into this tournament,” Fortunato said. “We couldn’t have done it without everyone’s help.”

The Joe Fortunato Celebrity Golf Classic raises money for scholarships given out by the Miss-Lou Chapter of the National Football Foundation.