At the beginning of the 1940s, professional golfer and native Texan Ben Hogan was winning about a third of the PGA Tour tournaments he entered. As the United States entered into World War II, Hogan felt the call to serve his country, putting his PGA career on hold to enlist and serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Now, almost 80 years later, Hogan’s legacy and commitment to the nation lives on in the Ben Hogan Foundation, which in 2013 created the Ben Hogan Classic at Fort Hood. The tournament is a free event open to all active duty Soldiers at Fort Hood and an opportunity for the foundation and its volunteers to give the Soldiers a day off and serve them for a change.
Friday was the fifth annual Ben Hogan Classic at Fort Hood, with about 200 Soldiers of all ranks competing, from junior enlisted all the way up to the III Corps and Fort Hood Commander Lt. Gen. Paul Funk II.
“First, I want to thank the Hogan Foundation and the Miles Foundation for doing all of this,” Funk said in his opening remarks.
“I guarantee you there is no other country in the world that celebrates its Soldiers like this one,” the general said. “This organization represents all that’s great about our country.”
Before handing the microphone over to Ben Hogan Foundation CEO Robert Stennett, Funk joked about the other 199 golfers competing for second place, behind him.
As the golfers checked in that morning, they each received a bag full of gifts from the Ben Hogan Foundation and its title sponsor, the Miles Foundation. Golfers were able to enter the putting or chipping contest as they waited for the tournament to begin. They could even take a lesson from PGA Tour professional Bruce Devlin or NTPGA professional Lindy Miller.
Stennett said this event got started about six years ago when he reached out to a colonel he knew at Fort Hood on behalf of the Ben Hogan Foundation.
“We decided we wanted to do something to honor the military,” he said. “We didn’t want to be presumptuous and assume that we knew the best thing to do.”
So he emailed the since-retired colonel to ask what the foundation can do to give back to the men and women at Fort Hood. The colonel recommended a golf tournament and a day off to give to the Soldiers. And so the annual Ben Hogan Classic was born.
“Everything we do, we do to honor Mr. Hogan,” Stennett said. “Mr. Hogan was very patriotic … He was always a patriotic, proud American.
“So we’re down here doing something that we think he would want us to do,” the CEO continued. “And that’s honoring the Soldiers in his name, giving the Soldiers a fun day off, letting us serve them for a day and telling them how much we appreciate them providing the freedoms that we enjoy.
“It’s become a very important part of the foundation,” he added.
The tournament is always open to only active duty Soldiers, but sometimes will open up to retirees and veterans if registration spots remain open. The number of registrations caps at 200 for space available on the 27-hole golf course.
“It’s great,” Sgt. Pedro Garcia, 87th Sapper, 20th Engineering Battalion, 36th Engineering Brigade, said of the tournament. “Definitely a morale booster. Guys come out and relax, take a little break from work. It’s good times.”
Sgt. Nick Diehl, also a Soldier in 87th Sapper, agreed.
“I think it’s pretty nice because you get people that actually recognize the Soldiers as far as what we do,” he said. “So for them to come out and spend their time to support us with an event like this, it’s pretty nice. And all the gifts that they gave us were very appreciated.”
The tournament runs in a golf scramble-style, meaning each member of a four-person team tees off and with each stroke, the golfers use the location of the best ball until they make it into the hole. The tournament was also more of a leisurely tournament than a competitive tournament, so many participants weren’t necessarily experienced or exceptional golfers.
Garcia and his teammates were more on the unexperienced end of the golf spectrum, but that didn’t matter to them.
“We’re having tons of fun,” he said.
Another feature of the tournament, which Stennett called an “indirect” part of the event’s mission, is that there is no rank when the Soldiers are out of uniform for the day and out on the links – everyone, from the newest private to the commanding general, is on equal footing for a day.
“We want this to be a fun day off work for them,” Stennett said. “They have to do so much for us, this is something where we can entertain them, feed them and give them neat gifts and put on a fun golf tournament and just let them have a day off, have a day of relaxation.”
A big part of making the day of the event run smoothly is the volunteer force behind it.
“We have 60 volunteers down here that are down here to serve the Soldiers and to tell them thank you,” Stennett said.
The Ben Hogan Foundation is headquartered in Fort Worth and volunteers for this event come from all over Texas.
Stennett said through all the Ben Hogan Classics at Fort Hood he’s been to, his favorite part of the event is always the participants.
“The Soldiers are so unassuming and they’re so appreciative,” he said. “It makes it fun for us to come down here and serve them for a day. The Soldiers are what make it fun.”
After the tournament, as the participants enjoyed a late lunch catered by Pizza Hut, dozens of drawing prizes were given out, including golf bags, driver head covers, hats, clubs, iHeart Country Music Festival tickets and more. This year’s grand prize was a donated signed guitar from Texas country music artist Pat Green. Actor Burton Gilliam, who played Lyle in the 1974 Mel Brooks feature film “Blazing Saddles,” helped announce the winners of the prizes.
Even more prizes were given out to winners of games out on the course like closest to the hole and longest putt, as well as to the winners of each flight, the “most honest team” – the team with the highest score – and the overall winner.
This year’s overall winners were Sgt. Joshua Tripp, Sgt. George Dickert, Sgt. Brandon Crank, Sgt. Christopher Campbell, all with 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.