BENTON — This weekend, Benton Country Club is hosting the 72nd Gold Cup. An area golfer has been a fixture at this tournament for more than six decades.
At 80 years old, Max McDonald doesn’t play in many tournaments any more, but there is one he does every year–the Gold Cup.
"Actually, I missed one year, had a shoulder injury," McDonald said. "Missed one year out of all the years, so it’s my 63rd year."
McDonald first competed in the Gold Cup as a teenager, back in 1955.
"Well I grew up here as a caddie," said McDonald. "Had a doctor friend, and he entered me in the tournament when I was 16, and I just kept playing. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s a great tournament, probably the best tournament in Southern Illinois."
That tradition keeps Max and many others coming back each year. The Gold Cup is part tournament and part reunion.
"It really is," said McDonald. "Larry Giacone, better known as ‘Rat’, he’s played 50, Dave Perkins has played 57 or 8. A lot of us that grew up out here. It’s part of our life."
Looking down the list of past winners of the Gold Cup is a who’s who in Southern Illinois golf history. McDonald is on the list–he won it in 1998. But that’s not what comes to mind first when he thinks back on his 60 plus years in the tournament.
"Probably what stands out more than anything is the times I got beat," McDonald said with a chuckle. "I got beat by Gene Carello. I got beat by Steve Heckel by one shot, Bill Blewett by one shot, the boy I taught to play golf by one shot. I had a lot of seconds, only one first."
"It’s very hard to win the Benton Gold Cup because half the field are championship players," McDonald added. "You know we had Bob Goalby here. He won the Masters, he never won the Gold Cup. Randy Lewis Senior won every tournament in Southern Illinois, but he never won the Gold Cup. It’s just a hard tournament to win (because) there’s so many good players."
Come Saturday, McDonald will once again be in that group of good players–just as he has 62 times before.