The Ithaca community and golfers near and far are preparing for the 50th annual Ithaca Best Ball, formerly known as the Skip Wallace Invitational, at the Country Club of Ithaca from July 19 through 21.
Beginning in 1970, the tournament was, for all intents and purposes, a golf tournament meant to bring together local golfers to play in a competitive, round-play tournament.
One year prior to the first tee-off of the tournament, a rising golf star and All-American at Syracuse University, Skip Wallace, who was training to leave the amateur ranks and play professionally, tragically passed away as a result of a car accident.
“A lot of us see parts of ourselves and want to perform at that level,” said tournament organizer Matt Pochily. “Skip represents the unfinished dream and what could have been.”
The tournament, which was originally named in memoriam to Wallace, began as an individual tournament for amateur play before changing the format to a best ball match play style in 1973.
From that time forward, the tournament has stayed as a best ball format and has become a staple of life and culture in the Ithaca community.
“For some people, it’s a special way to be back home,” Pochily said. “It really is a special place. Whether you grew up playing the country club, grew up playing golf around here or just grew up in Ithaca, it’s just a great environment.”
Another staple to the Ithaca community came in the early 1980s, when Ed Mazza set a record with eight tournament titles and took home a record six titles with the same partner, his brother, Rob Mazza.
As the tournament began to grow, more players came to Ithaca to celebrate the legacy of Wallace, but they also celebrated the friendships and love of golfing.
“People have made really special friendships at the Ithaca Best Ball tournament,” Pochily said. “There are so many friendships and so many people that come back because of that.”
Those who came back had a special impact on the community and on the tournament, and, in 2010, the official name of the tournament was changed to the Ithaca Best Ball Memorial Tournament, a way of honoring all of those who made an impact on the success of the tournament.
Now, as the Ithaca Best Ball prepares for its 50th playing, the field is open to so many more people than just the top amateur golfers from around the area.
“If you like to have fun and like some level of competition, the Ithaca Best Ball is really a great place,” Pochily said.
In talking about the tournament, Pochily was quick to stress the importance of having fun and playing golf at the level that each team is comfortable with.
Despite there being qualifying rounds and a championship flight, the tournament is designed to have the teams that play at a similar level will play with each other so as to not assert an overly competitive atmosphere. While golfing is certainly the main reason for the festivities, the tournament would not be complete without top-notch food.
“There are more meals than you can count,” Pochily said excitedly. “You really get a bang for your buck.”
The teams enjoy meals throughout the rounds provided by the country club, and that is what caps off the overall experience that is the Ithaca Best Ball, according to Pochily.
The tournament gets underway on July 19 with the qualifying rounds and moves into the two match play rounds on the 20 and 21.
Golfers interested in participating in the 2019 Ithaca Best Ball can find information at IthacaBestBall.com
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