by Emmy Moore-Minister
Woodland, CA (Sept 3, 2005) -- When I first met my husband in a crowd at Pebble Beach Golf Links, he mentioned, “I’m from Woodland; it’s a town in the valley.” I responded inquiringly, “Woodland? Where? What valley?” The only valleys in Northern California I was really familiar with were Salinas Valley and Santa Clara Valley. That is, until I took up a second residence in Woodland.
Yes, I soon learned there was another valley--the Sacramento Valley that housed Yolo County and a small, budding city called Woodland. A place bearing plenty of open space and lots of ag opportunity, with gobs of tomato fields spanning for miles.
It’s also home to Yolo Fliers Club, a private golf club, described by locals simply as… the club in the country. It’s a well maintained, down-home course and pretty much country club clique-free. Getting a game on Saturday mornings isn’t difficult. Most members don’t own fancy cars; they’re growers who would rather drive their pick-ups from the field to the course. You can even wear blue jeans at YFC, which comes in handy for the farming community, yet tank tops and collarless shirts still aren’t allowed. My husband and I are members, and we always feel welcome when we’re at the club.
I am no historian, but since the club’s inception in 1919, nothing major has ever happened at Yolo Fliers Club. That is, until recently. It was mid-June, the first weekend of the club championship when a freak golf cart accident changed the life of William “Bill” Dougherty, a long-time Yolo County resident.
Who’s Bill Dougherty? He was a golf advocate and competitive player. Over the years he competed in several state and national amateur events, the British Amateur, the French Amateur, and plenty of Crosby’s. Besides all that, Bill was also a dad, who headed out on Father’s Day morning to see sons, Dan and Neil, compete in their second-round matches in the club championship. He arrived at the Yolo Fliers range in hopes of watching them warm-up, but could venture no further as he was severely injured by a golf cart that went awry.
Shortly thereafter, the seventy-nine year old Dougherty was life-flighted to UC Davis Medical Center. Unfortunately, after a coma and a series of injuries too severe to overcome, he passed away several weeks later. The club flag hung for a week at half-mast in silent tribute to him. As expected, member spirits have been low for quite awhile. It’s still too hard to banish grieving thoughts from their minds, and it hurts too much to discuss them.
But thanks to the Golf Gods, the spirit of Bill Dougherty returned recently, magnified through the game of golf. All you had to do was turn on your TV set and watch his grandson Dillon. The young Dougherty’s stellar performance propelled him into the finals at the 2005 U.S. Amateur Championship in Ardmore, PA. A student at Northwestern University, this young competitor wowed not only the folks at Woodland’s little club in the country, but also drew national attention through his ferocious play on every hole. He was aided by his caddying dad, Dan, who packed his bag and cheered him on only as a father could, or a grandfather would have, had fate allowed.
On August 28th, I sat anxiously in the Yolo Fliers clubhouse surrounded by plenty of local folks all eagerly watching the final match of the U.S. Amateur. And, although everybody’s eyes were fixed on the Dillon and Dan duo, you knew that lingering memories of Bill Dougherty weren’t far away. Even the television announcers couldn’t stop themselves from referencing the late, loved Bill Dougherty. Some of the club members got a little teary-eyed watching the final match. It felt as if Dillon was the club’s own son competing for the title. You could feel the knots in the member’s throats as they glued their gazes to the TV monitors, sometimes cheering, sometimes sighing a little.
Young Dougherty has remarkable playing ability, of course, but I wonder what was his lucky charm? We all have one. Was it Grandpa’s favorite cap that Dillon’s dad donned for every match? Was it the photo of Grandpa Bill tucked up inside the brim? Or was it Dillon’s determination and drive to win “this one” in honor of the family patriarch? I’m not quite sure. But one thing I am sure of, while Dillon may not have clinched the final win, he clinched the hearts of those back home.
Reflecting on the 2005 U.S. Amateur Championship, it seems to me that Dillon’s grandfather, Bill Dougherty, isn’t really gone. He’s just been traveling, wrapped in an invisible cloak, on the shoulders of his descendants. And even though grandson Dillon didn’t bring the trophy home, he bestowed a far more valuable gift to his home club: In the name of Dougherty, he elevated “the spirit” at Yolo Fliers Club. Head PGA Golf Professional Jeff Burger verifies the noticeable gesture. “There’s a buzz around our club,” Burger said. “It’s like a new-found energy and I can’t quite explain it, but it feels really good.” One might say, Yolo Fliers, a simple club in the country, now heals on the heels of the vibrant, up-and-coming Dillon Dougherty.
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Emmy Moore Minister is a golf industry consultant who works closely with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of Northern California, the California Alliance for Golf, and the Northern California PGA where she is an honorary member of the association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.