FARGO — It was many moons ago when Tom Lehman pulled up in the parking lot of the Fargo Country Club to play in the Bobcat North Dakota Open. He even brought his living quarters with him: a pop-up camper.
This summer, after a career that netted him 25 professional wins and over $12 million in official PGA Tour earnings, he retired from competitive golf after the British Open. John Bennett will never forget that day when he saw Lehman at the infant stages of his career.
“He had that camper and he parked it behind the swimming pool,” Bennett said. “It was kind of fun to see that not knowing where he was going at the time coming from Alexandria.”
Like Lehman, Bennett is also retiring from pro golf. Well, as a volunteer for the Bobcat tournament anyway.
It’s been 40 years of memories.
“We’ve met people from all across the country from just about every state,” he said. “It’s been a fun, fun tournament.”
The 74-year-old Bennett, a financial planner from Fargo, was on the ground floor. A member of the FCC, and at the urging of former FCC head professional Steve Weidner, he was the one who approached what was then Melroe Manufacturing Company and asked executive Bob Spolum if he wanted to get involved in a professional golf tournament.
Those were the days when 10 members of the Country Club would fork over $10 each to buy a sign. It was a bare-bones effort. It wasn’t long before Weidner and FCC members were giving a presentation in Spolum’s office to be a chief sponsor.
“It hasn’t stopped since,” Bennett said.
The tournament has raised over $1 million to the Village Family Service Center, a health service provider where Bennett and his wife, Mavis, both served as president of the Board of Directors at one time.
“Their programs have improved, they have lots of staff and it’s helped a lot of kids and families in this community and other communities,” John Bennett said.
As for his volunteer duties, he’s done anything and everything over the years. Lately, he’s been the starter on the 10th tee, which is a hole that requires teamwork. Players often take their second shot that is out of view from the tee box.
Another volunteer with a flag signals to Bennett that the coast is clear. With his loud voice, accompanied sometimes by a whistle, he lets the players know it’s time to hit.
“I’m not a very good golfer but it’s fun to watch,” Bennett said. “It’s fun to see these young kids play. The young kids today from 40 years ago; it’s unbelievable. Unbelievable. The clubs are better, the kids are better and there’s more athletic ability.”
On Friday night, Bennett was recognized at the tournament awards banquet for his years of service. One of the items he received was a North Dakota Open flag and a Bobcat toy bank for the grandkids.
“That’s all we need,” he said.
Spoken like a true volunteer.