“The Gibby” Salutes Local Golf Legend With Event At Ooltewah Club

  • Monday, August 28, 2023
  • Paul Payne

By his own admission, academics weren’t Gibby Gilbert’s top priority when he was in high school. He knew at an early age he had a different path for his life.

“I was a very average student,” Gilbert said. “My problem was I fell in love with golf in the seventh grade, and I didn’t want to do anything but play golf from then on.”

Gilbert rose from humble beginnings in Chattanooga to stardom on the PGA Tour and PGA Champions Tour. Over the course of his 35-year career, the former Central High School and University of Chattanooga product won three times on the PGA Tour in the early 1970s and recorded 57 Top 10 finishes – including placing second to Seve Ballesteros in the 1980 Masters.

He earned another six wins and 50 Top 10s on the Champions Tour in the ‘90s while also capturing the Tennessee PGA Championship five times and was a four-time winner of the Tennessee Open.

In recognition of Gilbert’s lifetime of achievements and his ongoing commitment to promoting junior golf, The Ooltewah Club initiated a new venture. In conjunction with the Tennessee Golf Foundation, the club is saluting Gilbert with the announcement of a scholarship fund and high school tournament simply called “The Gibby”.

“I never dreamed I’d have a scholarship named for me, but it’s quite an honor,” Gilbert said. “It’s something I’m going to cherish.”

The Ooltewah Club majority owner Rick Stern is thankful to recognize Gilbert’s contributions.

“We are incredibly blessed to have both Gibby and his son, “Little Gibby”, as members of The Ooltewah Club,” Stern said. “I’ve been so impressed with the kindness, humility and generosity of this man that has been such a great player and an example of a sportsman with great character that I was determined to do something to honor him.”

With $20,000 raised thus far toward a goal of $100,000 to endow a scholarship with the Tennessee Golf Foundation, the club is hosting a one-day co-ed tournament comprised of eight local high school teams to help raise funds on Monday at 10 a.m. in what Stern hopes becomes an annual event.

“Gibby’s passions include introducing and supporting the youngest generation to become great people and great golfers,” Stern said. “My team came together to put together an event that would honor him, while helping to further his mission of mentoring young golfers. You can tell how much Gibby is loved by the number of members and friends that volunteered to help in the development of this event.

“He has made a huge positive impact in the sport of golf in the Chattanooga area. We want to honor and thank him for his contributions by creating a unique and monumental event for young golfers. We will continue to raise scholarship money for this event to be a premier junior event in perpetuity.”

Gilbert helped present the initial recipients of the scholarship during a Sunday evening banquet at The Ooltewah Club. Boyd-Buchanan’s Madison Butler was the girls winner, and Tyler Tate from Ooltewah won the boys prize. Both were awarded $5,000 to be used at the school of their choice next fall after their 500-word essay on ‘The Importance of Integrity in Life and Golf’ was selected by the tournament committee.

Lamar Mills, Tennessee Golf Foundation Chattanooga Regional Director, was excited to envision the future of ‘The Gibby’.

“Nothing like this has ever taken play in this area for as long as I’ve been involved in golf,” Mills said. “This falls in line with the mission of the foundation which stresses accessibility and affordability. We wanted to be a part of this to help kids get a scholarship so they can move forward in life.”

Gilbert, whose granddaughter Gibbie Kay Cain will be participating for Boyd-Buchanan, is proud to have his name associated with the tournament.

“We want to grow the tournament every year, and we’d like to attract kids from all over Tennessee,” Gilbert said. “I’ve always tried to help junior golf as much as I can my whole career. When I was growing up here, we only had two tournaments - the City Prep and one up on Signal Mountain. That was it. These kids now have lots of places to play and they work harder at the game than I ever did.”

Gilbert lists his first PGA Tour win at the 1970 Houston Champions International as his most memorable career moment.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Gilbert said. “I was two shots behind Bruce Crampton coming into the last hole. I hit a three-iron to the green to six feet for birdie and he made bogey. I got him on the third hole of the playoff.”

Gilbert’s biggest regret is never competing in the British Open, but times were different during his playing days.

“The British Open didn’t pay much money back then and the expenses were high getting there,” Gilbert said. “You could play the Milwaukee Open that same week for twice the money and half the cost, so it was an easy choice. But I do wish I had played the British Open at least once.”

Now 82, his passion for the game has never left Gilbert.

“I miss it every day,” Gilbert said. “I’m way too old to get out there now like I want to, but that was my life.”

Schools participating in the tournament include Chattanooga Christian, East Hamilton, Bradley Central, Ooltewah, Collegedale Academy, Boyd-Buchanan, Walker Valley and Cleveland. Each team will consist of five boys and three girls. The team stroke play format will be a combined four-player gross taken from the top three boys scores and the top girls score for each school.

Those interested in contributing to the “The Gibby” in helping reach the endowment goal can make checks payable to the Tennessee Golf Foundation and mail donations to The Ooltewah Club, Attn: The Gibby, 7502 Snow Hill Road, Ooltewah, TN 37363 or by contacting The Ooltewah Club golf professional Greg Harnage at greg@theooltewahclub.com

Paul Payne can be emailed at paulpayne6249@gmail.com

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