Back in 2006, it was a simple idea.
Today, the Culver’s Midwest Cup has become one of the nation’s most prominent mid-amateur men’s golf events.
The tournament, conceived by Menasha’s Eric Hjortness with help from Middleton’s Mike Murphy, started as a bragging-rights battle between top mid-amateur players (age 25 and older) from Wisconsin and Illinois.
The tournament has grown in scope and prestige every year since. Last year, four teams did battle at Hastings Country Club in Minnesota. This year, the field has doubled in size to eight teams. Competition will take place Friday through Sunday at Wild Horse Golf Club in Gothenburg, Neb.
“Last year’s four-state event was the most fun I’ve ever had in a golf tournament,” said Murphy, 56, a three-time Madison city champion who will serve as captain of Team Wisconsin. “This year, with eight states involved, I can’t even imagine how exciting it’s going to be.”
Hjortness said the tournament field will include more than 25 current and past state amateur champions with more than 150 state titles between them. The field includes some former PGA Tour players who have regained their amateur status, along with several former NCAA Division I standouts.
“I don’t believe you can find another regional tournament that has the winners that this tournament will bring together,” Murphy said. “After playing last year with four teams, we had groups from other states contacting us, looking to join.”
This year, original members Wisconsin and Illinois will be joined by defending champion Minnesota and teams from Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska.
The tournament’s growth has been fueled by financial and organizational support from Culver’s Frozen Custard and Foot-Joy. The event has raised more than $25,000 for charity over the years, including the Evans Scholars Foundation and local high school golf programs.
“Most tournaments are held for profit, but with us, every penny that comes in goes back out,” Murphy said.
Each team includes seven mid-amateur players and at least two senior players. The young bucks on the Wisconsin crew will be Waukesha’s Eric Busalacchi, 25, the 2013 Wisconsin State Golf Association match-play runner-up, and Janesville’s Matt Behm, the 2006 WSGA Player of the Year.
The only other Madison-area player on the team is two-time University of Wisconsin MVP Rob Peters, who now lives in Middleton. Other participants are 2010 state Governor’s Cup winner Dan Anderson of Bonduel, 2000 and 2004 WSGA State Amateur champion Pat Boyle of South Milwaukee, 2008 WSGA Senior Player of the Year Steve Johnson of Mequon, Troy Dobbe of Viroqua and 62-year-old Randy Warobick of Hartland.
“Part of the idea is to have the younger players spend time with the older players and get some coaching, to learn how to handle yourself in big events,” Murphy said.
“Golfers at our level don’t have much opportunity to play at a regional basis. There are a lot of good state events, but only the ultra-top players make it to national events. This gives a lot of top-notch players a chance to get together and test themselves against one another.”