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Golf tourney raises funds for Relay for Life

NATCHEZ — The Cliff Merritt Annual Invitational Golf Tournament Saturday at Beau Pré Country Club was not your typical golf tournament. It was a way to honor, as longtime friend Bill Hurt put it, one of the true good guys in the area.

It was also a way to raise money for the area Relay for Life for cancer research.

Cliff Merritt’s wife Debra said he has been battling cancer since December of 2008. All the proceeds from this tournament will be donated for that cause.

As for the golf itself, it was not a four-man scramble. It was a Ryder Cup-style tournament with 72 total players — 36 on each team with Hurt and Merritt each being team captains. In the end, Team Hurt ended up winning the tournament with a total of 40 points to Team Merritt’s 32 points.

It was unique in that this was a best-ball format for all four of the nine-hole matches with two players on each team.

“At the end of the day, the team with the most points is the winner,” Cliff Merritt said. “Team Hurt is mostly local players. Team Merritt is most out-of-town players. The farthest any player is from is Georgia. We’ve got players from Atlanta, Austin, Texas, north Alabama. We’ve got a spectator from Virginia.”

Team Merritt won Match 1 with 9 1/2 points while Team Hurt was right in the hunt with 8 1/2 points. Team Hurt started its rally by taking Match 2 9 1/2 points to 8 1/2 points for Team Merritt to give each team 18 points.

Team Hurt took command in Match 3 with a 10 point to 8 point win over Team Merritt. Then Team Hurt dominated Match 4, winning nine of the first 11 best-ball matches en route to winning 12 points while Team Merritt managed just six points.

“One point in match play is nothing,” Hurt said. “The real winners are Relay for Life and Cliff Merritt. When you get this many guys is the area, good golfers and bad golfers, it’s good for the area and it’s good for Natchez. This is going to be an annual event.”

While Team Merritt came up short in winning the overall competition, one of its teams did quite well. Randy Ponthie and Brian Campbell Jr. won all four of their matches to earn MVP honors.

For Team Hurt, two teams were big factors in the outcome. The teams of Jordan Farmer and David White as well as Joel Dupre’ and Bruce Reynolds each tallied three and a half points for the winning team.

And the outfits each team wore were also unique. Perhaps that’s another reason why the motto for the tournament was “A Tournament As Unique As The Man.”

“We just wanted to do something different for Cliff,” Sandy Middleton said. “All the players are wearing knickers. They’re divided into two teams. Team Merritt is wearing khaki knickers. Cliff is the team captain, but he’s wearing white knickers. Team Hurt is wearing black knickers. They’re dedicated golfers. We’ve got people from all over Mississippi and Louisiana and all over the Southeast. Howard Jones coordinated so much of this tournament.”

Middleton added that the tournament should raise between $8,000 and $10,000 to go to the area Relay for Life for cancer research.

“Cliff was good enough to let us use his name,” Middleton said.

As to how so many players from outside the area played in this tournament, Debra Merritt said, “After the initial organization to do this, I helped bring in Cliff’s friends and business associates.”

Among the other local players on Team Hurt were Robbie Savant, Howard Jones, Gary Farmer, Woody Allen, Tom Matthews, Billy Ulmer, Kurt Russ, Bob Flurry, Bobby Meason and Adrian Sandel.

“The big winner is Relay for Life. It’s been overwhelming and gratifying to see everybody come out and support this,” Cliff Merrit said. “I’m very humbled by the experience.”

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