For over 35 years, the Memorial Hospital Open Golf Tournament has rewarded participants, the hospital and the community by raising funds for needed equipment and community programs offered by Memorial, a not-for-profit 25-bed Critical Access Hospital located in North Conway, N.H.
The 18-hole, scenic Wentworth Golf Course has been the Open's home since the first tournament was created in 1980 by the late Lee Harmon (1929-1995), then of the Jack Frost Shop, and former Christmas Farm Inn co-owner and future U.S. Rep. Bill Zeliff, 79, now of Jackson, Florida, and Washington, D.C., who served in Congress representing the First District from 1991-1997.
Shown here at the 1999 tournament: Joe Rivers, Jonathan Rivers, Steve Eastman, Tom Eastman
Then and now, the goal for the tournament was to raise some funds for the hospital, while having fun at the same time: always a worthwhile and achievable goal in the four-season resort community of the valley.
The event has raised nearly $800,000 over its long history, purchasing many pieces of life saving equipment and supporting community health programs.
"On the day of the tournament, the entire valley, including volunteers and players, came together and enjoyed the entire day for the benefit of the hospital," said Zeliff in an interview from his Washington, D.C., office. "It was a day off for a good cause! Furthermore, we wanted to recognize what a great asset we have in our Memorial Hospital and as a citizen of the Mount Washington Valley, to pay tribute to the hospital and their employees."
Always a gifted promoter, Zeliff used his political strings to add to the tournament's luster by enticing New Hampshire political and media figures to be part of the Christmas in July and the tournament.
WMUR TV 9's veteran news anchor Tom Griffith and former sports announcer Charlie Sherman were regulars, as were Steve Minich of WMTW Ch. 8, Gov. John H. Sununu and family, and Gov. Judd Gregg. In later years, locally-raised Emmy Award-winning actor Gordon Clapp of "NYPD Blue" fame came on board, and has rarely missed a tournament.
"I played all six years I was governor," said Sununu, who served as New Hampshire's 75th governor from 1983 to 1989, and was White House Chief of Staff for President George H. W. Bush from 1989 to 1991.
VIPs were part of a pre-tournament ritual involving surgical scrubs. Shown here NH Governor John Sununu (far left) and US Representative Bill Zeliff (second from right) with two unidentified golfers.
"During my years as governor, I really did try and give a lot of focus to the recreational economy of the state and be as much a part of it as I could: the press generally would cover wherever I went as governor, and the more I could generate news stories that would help people understand the family fun that New Hampshire had to offer, I was happy to do it," said Sununu, who, like the other celebrity participants, always donned hospital medical "scrubs" attire for publicity shots to help promote the tourney.
Fellow celebrity golfer and actor Gordon Clapp, 66, continues to play in the hospital tourney whenever his schedule permits.
"Playing in the tourney is my way of giving back — I was born at Memorial Hospital. Plus, it's always great to see old friends, including classmates," said Clapp, in an interview from his Norwich, Vt., home.
Among the key individuals who have all long been involved with the tournament are longtime chair Dan Jones, Bayard Kennett, Gail Paine, Joanne Sutton, Dixie Coleman of A.J. Coleman and Sons, a longtime sponsor; Bill Weiss of Crest Auto World; Michael Tolley of the Tolley Group, Presenting Sponsor for more than a decade; Jim Sheehan, now retired but formerly with longtime sponsors Silver Brothers (now Amoskeag Beverages LLC); and former volunteer and now hospital community relations/development coordinator Joan Phillips.
This photo taken in the mid-1980s shows event sponsors gathering before the tournament. In the front row far left are Bill Zeliff, John Sununu, and tournament co-founder Leland Harmon.
In interviews this spring, those contacted said that they have enjoyed giving back to the hospital and the community through the event.
Perhaps best summing up the volunteers' commitment to the tournament was Jones, a Realtor with REMAX/Presidential of North Conway, who has relinquished his chairmanship duties this year, a post he has held since 1980, but is still involved as a member of the organizing committee.
"I got involved because I was on the hospital board of directors from 1980 to 1989," said Jones. "I have served because of my connection to the hospital and my feeling that it is such an asset to this community: to have the quality of this hospital right here is important to all of us in this community. You don't realize it 'till you need it. Our goal has been to make the hospital the best we can by supporting it."
Tom Mulkern, Joe Rivers and Gordon Clapp
'GRAZING ON THE GREEN'
Over the years, the food aspects of the tournament have evolved into a fabulous food extravaganza for golfers, organizers and volunteers alike, known as "The Grazing on the Green."
Joanne Sutton, who has has been a jack of all trades with the tournament from the beginning, assisting Lee Harmon and Bill Zeliff and others, says the "Grazing on the Green" is eagerly looked forward to.
"The food is fabulous," she said, noting that she works with local Jackson chefs on the golf feast.
Bill Green (WCSH TV); Larry Zuckerman, Debbie Zuckerman, Gary Sturtevant
Jackson chefs participating in the "Grazing on the Green" include Larry Baima and Leslie Fletcher of the Thompson House Eatery; Marty and Pam Sweeney of Sweeney Catering (formerly of the Wildcat Inn and Tavern), and Christopher Lambert of the Red Fox Bar and Grille.
Dan Jones, Gordan Clapp and Kevin Walker
Former trustee and longtime tournament committee member Gail Paine said that originally, the focus of the fundraising was on hospital equipment.
"When we started out, it was specifically to raise funds that were needed but which were not included in the hospital budget. One year, I remember one year the doctors needed to expand the hospital medical library. In those days, no one had iPads, so I remember (former longtime hospital executive director Gary Poquette) was very happy that we could do that," said Paine. "I think the first year we bought an Isolette, an incubator for premature infants. Another year, we bought defibrillators to be placed in schools and public places in the valley."
Diane Snow, MD – former president of Memorial’s Medical staff; with Dr. Alan Goldenhar
In recent years, Kathy Bennett, Memorial Hospital's vice president of community relations and development, and fellow golf committee member Mary Vigeant, APRN, have worked to develop programs that teach healthy lifestyles with local youth.
Bennett notes that proceeds will support a school-year long initiative to bring health and wellness education and activities to students throughout Mount Washington Valley, as well as the Memorial Hospital Foundation Community Wellness Endowment Fund. The school initiative was launched in 2013 and has been an extremely popular program for the student population throughout the region since then. "The Memorial Hospital Open Golf Tournament has long been known as the Valley's premiere golf event," said Scott McKinnon, Memorial's President and CEO. "Its longevity is thanks to the support of local businesses and the community. We are pleased to give back by earmarking the proceeds of the tournament for our student program as well as for our endowment fund, both of which serve our mission to provide wellness to our surrounding community."
Last year the event raised just over $33,000 which supported the school program. Thanks to the generosity of the tournament's supporters, local students of all ages throughout Mount Washington Valley were treated to free running races, yoga lessons, snowshoe outings, swim lessons, health fairs and substance abuse information.
The tournament proceeds also funded the donation of "take a break stations," which were installed in schools to promote movement and learning for students.
Students also received items to encourage them to partake in healthy activities, from hand sanitizers to pedometers to water bottles.
This year's Golf Tournament Committee members include: Bayard Kennett, Kathy Bennett, Paul Keane, Patty Keane, Don Newton, Will Owen, Gail Paine, Joan Phillips, Joanne Sutton, Beth Phelps, Peter Thomas, Sandy Kurtz and Mary Vigeant, APRN.
In recognition of its 35th anniversary, the event is honoring its founders and long time supporters as honorary committee members, without whom the event would not be possible. Those include:
• Honorary Co-Chairs - Joanne Sutton and Dan Jones
• Founders - William Zeliff and Leland Harmon
Long-time Supporting Committee Members - Cal and Bob Minton; Prudence Plusch; Gail Paine; Nancy Lundquist; Pauline Rouillard; Jean Webb; Sharon Malenfant; Jayne Geddes; Karen Cole and Joan Lanoie. Like each year's winner of the prestigious Masters Tournament held every April in Augusta, Ga., all involved — players, sponsors, committee members and volunteers, and staff — should get a green jacket for their efforts over the years to make the Memorial Hospital Open such a successful fundraiser for the community hospital.
The concept started in 1980 by the late Lee Harmon and still ardent community supporter Bill Zeliff carries on, aiding the hospital and giving all participants a great day on the green fairways of the Wentworth. Happy 35th, Memorial Hospital Golf Open!