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Hunter Sullivan gets 1st hole-in-one at Brad Sawyer Memorial Golf Tournament

Hunter Sullivan gets 1st hole-in-one at Brad Sawyer Memorial Golf Tournament
Press photo by John Burbridge
Hunter Sullivan, who was an All-Northeast Iowa Conference golfer for Charles City this past spring, scored the first hole-in-one in the 23-year history of the Brad Sawyer Memorial Golf Tournament last Saturday at Wildwood Golf Course.

By John Burbridge

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CHARLES CITY — Winning should be besides the point when it comes to the Brad Sawyer Memorial Golf Tournament, a mini-reunion of sorts that has become a resilient summer staple for more than a score of years and held annually at Sawyer’s former stomping grounds: Wildwood Golf Course.

So maybe it’s not too much of a bad thing that it has become a race for second place.

We can thank Bryant “Fairway” Estlund and Company for that.

A straight long shooter from the tee, hence the “Fairway” nickname, Estlund also has a pretty good short game — often when he does miss a putt, he leaves it teasingly on the edge of the hole as if expecting Bill Murray’s “Carl Spackler” character from Caddyshack to nudge it in with gopher-targeting pyrotechnics.

“How many have I won in a row?” Estlund repeats the question in regards to his winning streak at the Sawyer Memorial Tournament. “I don’t know … Chris … How many have we won together?”

As usual, Estlund was teamed with Chris Freiberg for the latest tournament played last Saturday at Wildwood. The third member of the threesome was Tyler Klatt.

“I don’t know,” Estlund said with the modesty of a successful ringer. “Maybe four or five … but it’s usually with a different combination of teammates.”

For this year’s tournament, Estlund-Freiberg picked a pretty good third guy with Klatt. To start the second cycle of the 18-hole, three-player scramble on the historic 9-hole course, Klatt smoked a drive on the 277-yard Par 4 No. 1 hole that had just enough deliberate hook to stop on the fringe of the green.

At any other Brad Sawyer Memorial Golf Tournament, that would have been the shot of the day.

But for the first time in the tournament’s 23-year history, a participant scored a hole-in-one.

“I thought I was going to black out when I did it,” said Hunter Sullivan, who aced the Par 3 No. 6 hole while using a pitching wedge.

It was the first ace for Sullivan, an already accomplished golfer. The 2022 Charles City graduate attained the status of an All-Northeast Iowa Conference golfer to cap his four-year varsity career as a Comet.

The tournament is in memory of another former Comet golfer, who continued to be an enthusiast — like Sullivan — after graduation.

Wildwood was Brad Sawyer’s “Place of Zen”, and if you needed to get ahold of him, he was always easy to find when golf season was in bloom.

That came to an end on Oct. 13, 1999 when Brad died in a car accident at the age of 20.

After Brad’s death, his father — Scott Sawyer — organized a golf tournament in his son’s honor the following spring.

After Scott died in 2010, Brad’s mother Annie and his sister Tara — a golf enthusiast herself who also played for Charles City — as well as a bevy of family and friends have managed to keep the memorial tournament going strong.

Remarkably, there has been only one rainout in 23 years — in 2017 due to torrential downpour the day before.

Even Covid-plagued 2020 didn’t stop the tournament from being held.

Unfortunately, for this year’s tournament, Covid did take a bite out of the regular field — Tara was unable to play after testing positive for the virus.

“So I ended up taking her place,” Annie said. “I usually don’t golf much anymore, except for this.”

The tournament continues to bring out Brad’s school classmates, several of whom have honored Brad on their persons with memorial tattoos. For many who grew up with Brad, his death was the first time they experienced a tragic loss of someone in their peer group.

“This year we had 24 teams … a couple had to drop out,” Annie said — the tourney’s max is capped at 27 teams. “It’s great to see some of Brad’s friends again.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling I have every year during these tournaments. I wish Brad was here, but the reason why so many of his friends continue to come back here every year and get back together is because Brad is no longer here.”

Almost needless to note, the team of Estlund, Freiberg and Klatt emerged as tournament champions.

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