Traditions endure at Alameda Commuters tournament

Traditions endure at Alameda Commuters tournament

Michele Ellson
Photo courtesy of Mike Maurice

Bob Blomberg got his first invitation to play in the Alameda Commuters Golf Tournament at the tender age of 15.

“I was scared to death,” Blomberg recalls.

But Blomberg, an Alameda native who started golfing at age 3 at the instigation of his father, said he had a few good rounds at the end of that tournament, beating golfers he revered. He went on to win the tournament six times and is now on the committee that runs it.

“Participating is wonderful. But winning it is really special, at your home,” Blomberg said.

The annual tournament turns 85 this year, a tenure that has included the Great Depression and several wars, rising and falling interest in golf and political battles over the future of the golf complex that pulled a sea of committeemen in Commuters green coats off the links and into City Hall.

The top 50 players from last weekend’s play will battle for the title of champion this weekend, and 52 players ages 55 and older will compete for the senior title. Anders Engell, a St. Mary’s College student from Oslo, Norway, leads the pack with an eight-under-par 134, just ahead of five-time Commuters champ Rick Reinsberg, who shot a 135, and two-time winner Darryl Donovan, who is tied for third with Michael Weaver at 136.

Through it all, longtime player and committeeman Mike Maurice says the tournament has continued as-is, maintaining traditions year after year right down to the way players are greeted and the way the scoreboard looks.

“The politics in this town have come and gone well before I was ever born, and were probably happening when I was 17, 20, 25. This golf tournament has never changed in approach or appearance,” said Maurice, a marketing man who has played in the tournament for 37 years and served on its organizing committee for six.

The tournament got its start in 1928, when a group of Alameda golfers decided they wanted to create a local tournament similar to the San Francisco City Golf Championship here at the brand-new Alameda Municipal Golf Course. The founders of the tournament took the ferry to San Francisco’s banking district, so they called it the Alameda Commuters.

“The players call it their Masters of amateur golf,” Maurice said, referencing the first of professional golf’s four major tournaments. The Commuters draws players from all over California.

The prize awarded the winner of that first Commuters tournament was a keg of nails, while the loser took home a sack of manure, according to the tournament website. Since amateur golfers can’t collect cash prizes, the winner of this year’s tournament will collect a $750 merchandise certificate for the golf complex’s store, and participants will each get an alignment stick, Maurice said, which is a tool designed to help golfers improve their swing.

While there are plenty of other amateur tournaments in Northern California, Maurice said Alameda’s offers something special: Commuters winners collect more points for stroke play here than at any other Northern California tournament, a boon to players seeking player of the year honors from the Northern California Golf Association. The association’s current leader has 775 points, while the number two player has 373; the winner of the Commuters tournament will earn 250 points.

“It’s exciting,” Blomberg said. “You don’t win any money. It’s bragging rights, is what it is.”

The contest grew with along with interest in golf, Maurice said, expanding to 224 players in 1960 after a second 18-hole course was built (players shoot a round on each course). A senior division was added as well, and Maurice hopes that a women’s division will follow someday. Some of the top women players in the area play alongside the men, off the same tees; this year high school senior Carly Childs was the sole women’s player, shooting a 12-over 154.

Many of the men who have competed in the tournament over the years have gone pro, Maurice and Blomberg said, including Dong Yi and Kris Moe, a graduate of Alameda High. Blomberg said seniors who went pro come back to play the senior amateur tournament, which past Commuters champs are invited to play.

“I said to invite Tiger Woods to play and he always had college tournaments,” Blomberg said.

While Woods never played here, some well-known pros, including Johnny Miller and Ken Venturi, played the Commuters but didn’t win, Maurice said, adding that the cut for the “low 50” players who will play the second round of the tournament is a three-over-par 145 that was shot by nine players.

“I’ve made cuts in tournaments where the cut was 152. It just shows you the quality of the players that come out,” Maurice said.

Now known as the Chuck Corica Golf Complex, Alameda’s was once the most-played golf complex in the East Bay, until a slew of new golf courses were built and the number of players on them slid with the economy. The city, meanwhile, took an increasing share of profits the complex generated to pay for services, leaving the complex with millions in needed upgrades and repairs and little money to pay for them.

Spectators peeled off too, as golf became more available on television and players like Woods captured the attention of people who’d never watched golf before.

Even so, the tournament continues to draw so much interest it has to turn players away, Maurice said, drawing strength from a solid golf community and a committee of organizers with a deep commitment to both the tournament and the sport.

“You never quit,” said Blomberg, who said he’s made lifelong friends through the sport. “If I’m not in my garden, I want to be playing golf.”

Tournament organizers invited the public to attend the tournament this weekend; admission is free.

“Tell ‘em to get out there and watch,” Blomberg said. “Tell the people to get out there and watch if they want to learn to play this game right.”

For more information: Alameda Commuters Golf Tournament website


golfwriter's picture
Submitted by golfwriter on Fri, Apr 27, 2012

well done michele ... I would add that most golf tournaments cut to a little less than half the field, while the Commuters cuts from 280 golfers to 50, the toughest amateur cut in the Northern California Golf Association ... and the Masters began well after the Commuters began ... in fact, the Commuters Committee began wearing green jackets well before the Masters adopted the tradition ... the Masters may well be the first Major Championship of the year, but the British Open and US Open are considerably older ... minor points in a well done story.