County tournament a special event for golfers
It’s been a decade since the McNelly-Whaley Motor Company decided to start sponsoring the Sevier County high school golf tournament.
Ten years on, the event is as strong as ever.
“We wanted to reach out to every school, not just one,” said McNelly-Whaley General Sales Manager Joe Whaley. “How’d you reach out to all the high schools? You sponsor an event, a three-day event and you try to make it a great experience for these young men and women. …
"We’ve tried to take it to a level where all the teams really look forward to this tournament. We try to make it the nicest event that they’ll play in.”
The tournament, which matches the feel of a district or regional championship, begins today at Sevierville Golf Club with both defending individual champions in the field in Seymour’s Katelyn Witucki and Sevier County’s Spencer Cross. The tournament moves to Creekside Plantation Golf Course on Wednesday before wrapping up at Gatlinburg Golf Course on Thursday. This year's field includes all six Sevier County high schools: SCHS, Seymour, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg-Pittman, Northview Academy and The King's Academy.
Whaley said state representative Dale Carr will be the latest dignitary to hand out awards following the event’s conclusion on Thursday afternoon. Winners will receive permanent plaques but the team champions in each gender will get to hold on to the McNelly-Whaley Cup, which moves to the winning school each year.
It's all intended to give some exposure to a sport that may not draw the same crowds as high school football on a Friday night.
"(McNelly-Whaley) makes it a great event," said Sevier County coach Chad Owenby. "Any attention we get is great. We play a very difficult sport and our kids work hard and any exposure they can get is great."
Much of that attention this week should fall on Seymour, which has edged defending boys champion Sevier County in each of their meetings this year. Those two schools also feature the defending individual champions in Witucki and Cross. Cross said earlier this month his sights are set on the tournament scoring record of 9-under-par set by Seymour’s Willie Sexton.
“I’m not really going to think about that while I’m playing but I just need to play my game and make putts,” he said. “If I can get a good score the first day, if I can get by Sevierville, I’ll be OK I think.”
Witucki, who has consistently shot low this fall, said she's confident she can do well again this week.
“I definitely have some pressure on me but I think I can do it,” Witucki said. “(Winning last year) was pretty exciting, so I hope I can do it again this year.”
Northview Academy coach Jennifer Blanchard, who competed for both Seymour and the University of Tennessee as Jennifer Davis, said she always looked forward to this week's tournament as a player. Now, her players are equally excited about one of the biggest events they'll play all year.
Owenby, like Blanchard, played in the county tournament long before McNelly-Whaley owners Daniel and Seth Webb decided to sponsor it. Whaley said he still remembers the Sevier County coach growing up on the local courses.
“I was a member at Gatlinburg (Golf Course) and Chad would come up,” Whaley said. “I’d see him on the putting green every day. There’s some outstanding players that have come through our community.”