The Hot Corner: History is key at Fox Hill Country Club’s John Allan Tournament in Exeter

June 28th, 2015 11:29 am

The Hot Corner

Nick Wagner

Len Coleman was looking at a 20-foot putt during the John Allan Tournament at Fox Hill Country Club, Exeter. Coleman and his partner Thomas Gill Jr. shot a plus-1 for the day.
Dr. Jerry Gibbons tees off with son Brent looking on.
Dr. Tom Sharkey chips from the fringe.
Bill Briggs, past Allan champion, watches the ball enter the cup after a four-foot putt.
Rob Belza tees off with partner Mark Bufalino in the background at the first tee.
Former Allan champ Rich Laneski chips just off the green on 18.
Judge Tom Burke takes a few putts on the practice green before his tee-off time.

Driving up Tunkhannock Avenue, you know something special is happening. The grass is lush, and cut so precisely. Cars are overflowing from the parking lot.

It must be the 69th annual John A. Allan Tournament held at Fox Hill Country Club.

The tournament’s first shots were hit at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 26. The tournament will feature 208 golfers — 104 teams — vying for the title.

The two-member teams play Friday to decide who will be in the 16-team championship flight held Saturday and Sunday. The 16 teams in the championship flight will play 18 holes Saturday and 27 holes Sunday. The scores of all three rounds will be counted toward each team’s total score. The team in the championship flight who finishes with the lowest total score wins.

The teams who do not qualify after Friday’s play for the championship flight will play the remaining 45 holes in better-ball match play.

Now, I’ve seen my fair share of local golf tournaments. It’s not the U.S. Open or The Masters, but it is to a lot of people in the area. One thing that stands out when hanging around some of the players at Fox Hill is they are so laid back. Golf is supposed to be fun, and these guys are showing it.

I’ve seen the Anthracite Golf Association’s Coal Scuttle, which is held at Fox Hill once in a while. That tournament does have some of the best players in Northeast Pennsylvania. But there’s just a warm feeling about the John Allan, and I’m not sure what it is — maybe it’s the history, maybe it’s the golfers.

Highly considered one of the premier golf tournaments in the area, the John Allan has seen several players from the area leave their mark on not just Pennsylvania golf, but golf on a national stage.

In 1949, Art Wall of Honesdale won the tournament when it was a single-person format. Ten years later, Wall was the 1959 Masters champion. He won 14 times on the PGA Tour.

Walter Kuharchik and Art Brunn Sr. have won the tournament a combined eight times. Len Coleman, with several different partners, has won the tourney four times and is considered one of the best golfers in the area. He’s won the Emanon Country Club Championship several times.

The tournament is like a family reunion, Coleman said. He grew up a stone’s throw away from the course, and remembers them announcing the likes of Brunn. He’s been playing in the tournament since 1968.

“It’s like The Masters for me and many of the players,” he said. “It is the premier golf tournament in the area. The Allan has a lot of prestige and it’s always a pleasure for me to play.”

Coleman coached golf at Wyoming Area for 31 years — from 1980 to 2001 — and has had the pleasure of coaching many of the players in the field, including father and son John and Zach Mulhern. He played with John several times.

“The history of Fox Hill and the Allan is certainly something special,” Coleman said. “It’s always a pleasure for the guests. Fox Hill treats us like royalty.”

On April 29, 1921, the first tee shot was hit at Fox Hill. Just a year earlier, on May 25, 1920, a small group of local businessmen gathered in Pittston to consider a country club in the area. A parcel of land along the West Pittston-Exeter border was purchased in June of 1920.

When Fox Hill was commissioned, there were only two touted golf courses in the area — Wyoming Valley Country Club in Wilkes-Barre and the Country Club of Scranton.

First, a nine-hole course was constructed and designed by John Reid. The first club’s officers were President Frank M. Foy; Vice President William J. Peck; Secretary Robert W. Langford; and Treasurer W.C. Sutherland. Forty-three members attended the first meeting. By the time the course was open, the membership had risen to more than 200 members.

In the coming years, A.W. Tillinghast, a golf course architect, was commissioned to design the next nine holes. Tilinghast designed courses such as Winged Foot, Bethpage Black and Baltusrol.

Fox Hill opened its new 18-hole course in 1924. Just five years later, a tournament was formed.

Then-club president John Allan helped the club and shouldered the major financial burden of supporting his country club in the aftermath of the Great Depression.

The tournament has been around since 1929, and was originally called the Fox Hill Invitational. The tournament was not played in 1943-45 because of World War II. But since then, it’s been 69 straight years of invitational play. The tournament has been a 2-person format since 1956.

Nick Wagner has been playing golf most of his life, but like everyone else at one point or another, is currently in a slump. You can give him advice at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick.