The Post-Journal

Before The GBO, There Was The GBI

The George Bataitis Open golf tournament will be played today at Chautauqua Golf Club and it is an important event on the Jamestown Community College event calendar. The tournament, named after the former JCC coach and athletic director for more than 30 years, is a major athletic scholarship fund raiser for the college.

But the tournament, known as the GBO, has had that title since about the late 1980s. It all started out as the George Bataitis Invitational, or GBI, and was Chautauqua County’s version of Bing Crosby’s “clambake” that eventually became the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am.

Bataitis coached golf at JCC for more than 25 years and had some very talented players whose names are still being engraved on tournament trophies in the area. Some of his players included Dick Cole, Joe Johnson, Randy Swanson, Jim Young, Dan Bjork, Randy Holmes and the late Roger Loop.

In 1973, Loop and about six other former JCC golfers suggested to Bataitis that they get together for a round of golf. After the round, they gathered at the “19th hole” and agreed it was a lot of fun and that they should do it again the following year. They asked some others to join them and the field was about 20. Bataitis decided the event should be better organized and turned it over to Dick Kimball, who was the president at Maplehurst Country Club. Kimball took command of what was to become the GBI. Within a few years it became a full-fledged invitational tournament at Maplehurst with more than 90 entrants. But Bataitis notes, “The main objective was to have fun.”

That is why the “top prize” for the tournament was the coveted Fred Foglesanger Award, given to the player with the highest score. Bob Kochersberger had a lock on the award by winning it three times.

But at the other end of the spectrum, even though everyone was having fun, the winning score was always impressive and often half of the Fred Foglesanger Award winner’s total. When Cole won three straight times from 1976-78 and a couple of his scores were 66 and 68. In 1979 Joe Johnson broke Cole’s string by shooting a 69 to take the title and he repeated the next year with a 65.

In 1980, Johnson’s 65 was one of six sub-par rounds. And there were also six rounds in the 100s, with the leader at 132!

That was also the year the GBI had its first hole-in-one recorded by Derwood Cheney.

I remember the 1980 GBI well because that was the year I shot my best score. I was rather disgusted when I shot a 7-over on the front nine. But on the back nine there were refreshments in ice buckets and they included caffeine-filled Jolt Cola. I decided to drink a couple during that back nine and went on to shoot a caffeine-induced 2-under 33 to finish with a 75.

Fortunately there was no “drug testing” after play to reveal I had been using a performance-enhancing cola.

The tournament’s overall winner every year received a special award. The committee had suggested presenting the winner a jacket, like at The Masters. Bataitis recalled saying, “Let’s not make a big deal of it.”

They didn’t.

“I think the first one we got at the Salvation Army,” Bataitis said about the first GBI jacket. “It was from about 1904; it was a crappie looking thing."

It was a putrid yellow thing with a torn pocket that Loop hid in a closet for first three years after winning it. Cole won it for the next three years and stored it in the trunk of his car. Joe Johnson won the GBI jacket in 1979, but when he repeated in 1980 he was awarded a new jacket that was purchased for $2. It was green and featured “I love (with a big heart) GBI on the back.”

Near the end of its run, the GBI became a charity event. The tournament was ending up with a surplus and the committee decided to donate it to a charity.

“Let’s give it to a different group,” Bataitis suggested.

He had recently read an article about a group that helped battered women, so a donation was made to it for the last few years of the GBI.

Then the tournament slowly faded away. Bataitis went on sabbatical from JCC for a year, so the GBI wasn’t held. Then it was revived, but there was not much response and it eventually ended.

After Bataitis retired in 1987, JCC was planning a golf tournament as an athletic scholarship fund raiser. They asked Bataitis if they could bring back the GBI, but it became the GBO. And it’s no longer an individual event, but a team scramble with Chautauqua Golf Club as the site.

The GBO had some bumps along the way at the start. One year rain forced its postponement in the summer and it was rescheduled in the fall. One of the winning teams, which had members not known for their golf prowess, shot an amazingly low score. Then we figured out how.

It was after Chautauqua Golf Club added some new holes, which are now Nos. 14 through 16, on the Lake Course. After playing No. 13, the winning team missed those three new holes and went directly to No. 17 and then No. 18 to finish their round. So they ended up playing only 15 holes which would help lead any team to an amazing score.

Things are under a much tighter rein now and the GBO is a major success. But its roots are with the GBI, which had a major goal of having fun. And if some of the golfers in the old GBI skipped playing three holes, they probably still would have been in the running for the Fred Foglesanger Award for the highest score.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.