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Friday, June 17, 2016

Bill Self’s tournament tees off today

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This afternoon, after wrapping up another week of Kansas University basketball summer camps on campus, KU coach Bill Self will hit the golf course to help young athletes in a different way.

Instead of teaching the fundamentals and X’s and O’s of basketball, Self will tee it up at Eagle Bend Golf Course for the 13th annual tournament that carries his name and benefits the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department and the children of Lawrence. This year’s Bill Self/LPRD Golf Classic will take place at 1 p.m. at Eagle Bend and already has grown larger than most events in recent memory.

“We’re at a full field right now, and it’s awesome,” Eagle Bend superintendent Darin Pearson said. “I can’t remember ever having this many teams since I’ve been involved with it.”

Neither can recreation operations manager Tim Laurent, who, like Self, also will try his luck during the four-man scramble that will feature lunch, dinner, prizes and, of course, some words of wisdom from Self.

With the LPRD for the past 25 years, Laurent remembers the origins of the event, which began shortly after Self’s arrival in Lawrence. At that point, the department had hit a wall in its efforts to raise money for a youth scholarship fund that would help the department live up to its motto, “Never turning a child away for the inability to pay.”

Because of that, Laurent recalled, a few staff members began kicking around the idea of starting a golf tournament. But one key ingredient was missing.

“We wanted to do something bigger,” Laurent said. “But we needed a host, that name, to pull people in.”

Through a connection from the youth sports supervisor Lee Ice, LPRD reached out to Self and the event was born.

“From my understanding, it didn’t take any nudging at all to get him on board,” Laurent said of Self. “He was in the minute he heard about it, and he has a great understanding of what we do as a department and how many kids we help as well as the importance of it.”

All of the money raised by the event, after expenses, goes to the Wee Folk Scholarship fund, which helps create opportunities in youth sports for young people who might not otherwise have the means or opportunity to participate.

Last year, the event raised roughly $10,000, and Laurent and Pearson anticipate that there remains plenty of room for growth.

That concept coincides perfectly with the changes that have taken place at Eagle Bend since Pearson took over. Once viewed in the golf world as more of a “goat ranch” that featured hard ground and wide open pastures more than pristine greens and fairways, Eagle Bend has blossomed of late into one of the nicer courses in the area, earning acclaim for various local and regional golf publications as “a hidden gem” on the Kansas golf scene.

It’s that, along with the chance to welcome one of college basketball’s heaviest hitters to the course, that has Pearson excited about this year’s event and the potential this tournament and golf course have.

“I remember my first year at Parks & Rec, and I couldn’t believe that we had a tournament with Bill Self’s name on it,” Pearson said. “I just remember thinking, ‘How cool is it that this guy is willing to spend his time to help us raise money for scholarships for the kids?’ The community of Lawrence really gets behind this event, and I know a big reason for that is Bill Self being involved with it.”

As for what surprises might be in store for those golfers playing Eagle Bend for the first time or the first time in a couple of years, Pearson said there are plenty of features that can catch their eyes.

“I’m always so excited to have people play our golf course who have never played there before because I know they’ll really enjoy it,” Pearson said.

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