It has withstood the test to time, says one of its organizers, because of the continued support it receives by many in the community.
“Like a lot of things in our city, it’s just a wonderful event,” said John Vandercook, one half of the team that has spearheaded the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses (SPTOR) Golf Tournament at the Arroyo Seco Golf Course in town for parts of three decades.
Together, Vandercook and Alan Vlacich, a pair of longtime SPTOR committee members, have been at the helm as co-chairs of the tourney for the past 25 years.
“We’re still alive, still standing,” joked Vandercook, pleased that the traditional get-together has earned the respect of so many who have reached into their wallets over the years to support South Pasadena’s float, the longest-running entry in the Rose Parade dating back to 1910.
Tournament fees help to pay for steel and flowers and other materials associated with building the float, named “Sky’s the Limit” for the next parade slated for January 1, 2022. South Pasadena has the oldest entry, constructed entirely by volunteers, in the floral spectacle. A crew is well on its way working on it in a parking lot behind the War Memorial Building in the 400 block of Fair Oaks Avenue. Its design touches on South Pasadena’s early history when the Cawston Ostrich Farm was once a premier tourist attraction in town when it opened in 1886. The float depicts a giant ostrich, fueled with jet packs, blasting off from a mountaintop.
“The golf tournament is just one of many things we do to raise money so that we can build a float,” noted Vandercook. “This year due to the cost of materials, flowers and steel, normally we would spend between $80,000 to $100,000. But this year, with everything going up, it’s probably going to cost us $150,000 to construct it. But thanks to our committee, we’re on target to make it happen.”
With the cancellation of the 2021 Rose Parade due to the pandemic, Vandercook said he was encouraged to see a large crowd for Saturday’s fundraiser. “It’s positive, it’s fun and there’s an upbeat positive attitude this year,” he said. “Not holding the event last year, Alan and I were totally surprised by this year’s turnout. The participation is more than we expected, which is just wonderful.”
The 2021 tournament attracted roughly 125 golfers, many providing additional support on top of the normal green fees by purchasing signage to promote their organization or business. Sponsor signs were placed at the tee areas throughout the course. Over the years, the tournament has netted between $8,000 to $10,000 “and we’re hoping for a little bit more from this one,” said Vandercook. “It’s great to see a big crowd supporting the float.”
Those on hand were also encouraged to go online and bid on an assortment of prizes through a live auction, a new attraction this year. Others liked the idea of having an opportunity to walk away with a $10,000 gift by sinking a hole-in-one on the 129-yard 17th hole.
“So, that was a big deal,” added Vandercook, explaining that no one walked off with the big prize sponsored by Mamma’s Brick Oven Pizza and Pasta on Fair Oaks Avenue in the city. “It’s those kinds of things that make the tournament fun.”
Among those supporting this year’s tourney was Michele Downing, a proud supporter who sponsored the foursome Team Compass. She walked alongside the team for much of the day, urging them to play their best. “I’m just so proud of our town for keeping our float going over all these years,” said Downing, a respected realtor who resides in South Pasadena. “It’s a lot of work and kudos to those who get behind it. I just always want to help anyway I can.”
Before heading to the first tee, Derek Vaughan, another top realtor in town, said he’s been a big backer of South Pasadena’s Rose Parade float over the years and “anxious to see that thing get back on its feet.”
Hosting the tournament was a step in the right direction, stressed the man who oversees the SPTOR, Brant Dunlap, saying its return after a year’s absence was a big step toward a sense of normalcy. “It’s just great to see people back out doing what they’re used to doing and having fun,” said the chair of the organization. “Our tournament is so relaxed, it’s low-key and there’s simply no pressure. That’s what people like about it. I’m so glad it’s back.”
The Arroyo is an 18-hole, three-par course and the best-ball format gave nearly every team an opportunity to turn in a low round at the end of the day. In a win-win, golfers were given a chance to purchase “mulligans,” a second shot or more with proceeds supporting the SPTOR. “You don’t have to be a great golfer,” insisted Dunlap.
There were great shots, a tap-in giving a team a birdie, and not so great shots, many wayward to the left and right or beyond the hole. For the worst of them, it mattered little because in this format, the best ball was played after the team’s left the tee area on each hole.
“You can be 15 years old or 75, and everyone has a chance to score low,” said Dunlap, “which makes it fun. Everyone’s rooting for each other. On top of all that, we’re just glad we’re giving people a chance to get together after they’ve been stuck at home for more than a year and-a-half.”
Dunlap’s daughter, Courtney, a SPTOR past president, worked the registration table along with other volunteers, checking in golfers as they arrived at the course before they walked to their respective holes in the early morning hours of the scramble tourney. “It’s not a hard course and encourages people who are not necessarily avid golfers to get together with friends,” she said. “Because of the pandemic, for a lot of these people it’s probably the first time a lot of them have seen each other in long time. This is a fun one. We have a lot of family sponsors and business sponsors and before the pandemic we were so used to seeing each other. It’s nice to know after being dormant for so long that we still have the support of the community. It was fun to see everyone again.”
James Gill, a partner in a small tech company who lives in the city, said he wanted to give back to the community by taking part in the golf tournament. “It’s the least we could do to support the local Tournament of Roses,” he said.
For Ryan Asao, his involvement was all about “supporting a good cause and being with friends.” His team, consisting of himself, Richard Asao, Isaac Hogan and David Chang, took home second place tournament honors while Morrow and Holman Plumbing and Heating, a foursome featuring Scott Margrave, David Bilandzija, Mike Azat and Geof Hugar, grabbed third.
Perennial champs, the Mijares team of Kylan Gamell, Joe Ruiz, Alex Sapalicio and Howard Dobson won it all once again, shooting a 38 or 16-under par over the 18 holes.
Former South Pasadena City Manager Sergio Gonzalez was among those in the field, echoing the thoughts of a large number, insisting the float is a big part of the city and will get behind it any way he can. He received a note from Vlacich seeking his participation, and after pondering the invitation, responding, “What the heck, this is a wonderful way to see some old friends and see what I can do on the course.”
Seconds later Gonzalez, the current city manager for the City of Azusa, was asked, “How’s your golf game?”
Smiling, followed by a laugh, he quipped: “Next question please.”