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March 9, 2023

Grayton Beach Open turns 48 in April

By Gregg Dewalt, Alabama Golf News Editor
Grayton Beach Open participants at the bar

What began as a 9-hole event has grown

The Grayton Beach Open is fast approaching another milestone in its long history.

When golfers tee it up in April, it will mark the event’s 48th anniversary since its inception, and it’s probably not a stretch to say the event is one of the longest-running “buddies” golf trips around.

According to tournament organizer/spokesperson Steve Sorrell, the Grayton Beach Open began “on a whim” in April 1976.

Jim Flemming
The late Jim Flemming was the only three-time winner of the Grayton Beach Open.

“Seven guys took advantage of early spring weather and took a golf trip to the beach,” Sorrell recounted in an email. “Let’s just say they had a good time and someone said, ‘Let’s do this again next year.’”

And that’s how the Grayton Beach Open was born.

It didn’t take long for word to spread and the so-called buddies trip turned into a full-fledged tournament outing.

By the mid-1980s, the event had grown to about 60 players. It outgrew its original landing spot – the Santa Rosa Golf Club – which at time was a nine-hole course.
“We moved for several years to the club at Seascape, and at our peak had 94 players and a Calcutta purse over $100,000,” Sorrell said.

After Santa Rosa Golf Club expanded to 18 holes, the Grayton Beach Open became a two-day event, which included a round at Santa Rosa and another round at Seascape.

Eventually, the two-day event played both rounds back at Santa Rosa under the watchful eye of unofficial commissioner John Cannon.

Scramble added to the Grayton Beach Open 1998

When Cannon died in 1998, the tournament added a third round – the John Cannon Scramble to honor the commissioner’s memory. The scramble tournament is a separate event from the two-day, two-man best-ball tournament.

For Sorrell and many of the participants, the Grayton Beach Open is a de facto homecoming.

Gene Eades
Winner Gene Eades displays his Grayton Beach Open trophy.

“We have players who come from several states, including one from New York,” Sorrell said. “We have guys playing whose dads played; we’ve got brothers who have won the tournament, a couple of father/son winners and a field of hopefuls.”

Jim Flemming is the only three-time winner in tournament history, while three players have won twice. According to Sorrell, Flemming said before he died that any future three-time winners would have an asterisk by their name because “he wasn’t there to defend.”

Throughout the 48-year history, more than 500 different golfers have played in the Grayton Beach Open. Now, the tournament is looking for new players. It will be played April 13-15 in Sandestin, Florida, at the Raven and the Links courses.

Registration is now open for the tournament – $150 for the John Cannon Scramble and $350 for the two-man best ball event. For information, contact Sorrell at 205-365-0471.

Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News

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All photos courtesy of Steve Sorrell

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