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Koeneman Classic golf tournament turns 50 in June

  • In a photo from 2017, members of the Koeneman family celebrate that year's Count Classic Tournament. From left are Jo Koeneman, widow of Bill Koeneman, Paul and Kyle Koeneman, Briana and Christopher Koeneman, MaryAnn Koeneman, Greg Koeneman, Ron Nitzsche, who ran the Count Classic, and Kim Koeneman Knight.

    In a photo from 2017, members of the Koeneman family celebrate that year's Count Classic Tournament. From left are Jo Koeneman, widow of Bill Koeneman, Paul and Kyle Koeneman, Briana and Christopher Koeneman, MaryAnn Koeneman, Greg Koeneman, Ron Nitzsche, who ran the Count Classic, and Kim Koeneman Knight.
    Herald Tribune files/ Courtesy of Kim Knight

 
Submitted by the Koeneman Golf Tournament
updated: 5/7/2021 12:35 PM

On June 5, the revered Koeneman Classic Golf Tournament will mark 50 years.

Back in June of 1971, with the Chester Country Club course barely 5 years old, Bill and Jo Koeneman started a tradition that has survived the test of time. The very first Koeneman Insurance Golf Classic was played as a two-day, 36-hole stroke play event and soon became one of the premier events -- not only on the SIGA schedule, but in the entire area.

Over the next three decades, many of the very best golfers from St. Louis, Southeast Missouri, Kentucky and Arkansas would find their way to Chester to test their skills on one of the toughest tracks around.

The Chester Country Club, which Bill played a huge part in its fruition and design, is a nine-hole layout that plays at 3200+ yards from the front side tees and a very long 3500+ yards from the back side tees. Course Architect William W. Amick has designed courses all over the world.

Bill took Amick to St. Louis' famed Bellerive Country Club right after Bellerive hosted the 1965 U.S. Open, intending for Amick to copy much of Bellerive's "feel" for the new course in Chester. Koeneman wanted the long but forgiving fairways combined with huge, undulating greens.

To showcase the layout, the Koeneman tournament was born. In a poll of SIGA players in the early 1980s, Chester was ranked by golfers as having four of the 18 toughest holes in southern Illinois, which were holes 11, 12, 13 and 17. Likewise, most who have played here would say that the stretch between holes 11 through 15 is Chester's little version of "Amen Corner."

The Koeneman Classic became known as a sturdy test of golf with the fastest greens around. Bill and Jo set the gold standard for hosting golf tournaments and the Koeneman filled up every year. Among the list of champions were names like Rohlfing, Van Galder, Schnurbusch, Lewis and Bixby.

The weekend was always one huge party with a cast of characters that knew how to have a great time, including St. Louis sports and TV celebrities.

By the early 2000s, the number of stroke play golfers had dwindled and the format was changed in 2004 to two-man teams playing nine holes Better Ball and nine holes Scramble on each of the two days. This format was used until 2011, the year Bill passed. The Count Classic Four Man Scramble was rolled out in 2012 as a memorial event and much of the day is still spent with some of the best "count" stories from throughout the years!

If you have ever played in the event or wished you could've witnessed it in it's heyday, you will want to be a part of this 50th anniversary celebration. Get a team together and come out and enjoy -- as Jim Nance would say -- "A tradition unlike any other!"

• The 2021 Koeneman Classic is a 4-player scramble starting at 9 a.m. on June 5. To reserve a spot, call the Chester Country Club at (618) 826-3168.