The World’s Most Unique Golf Tournament
It is the best of a Colorado morning; moist ground, crisp air, clear sky. Outstretched shadows slowly retreat; the rays of sun glinting off the freshly cut grass. The faint wail of the bagpipe can be heard in the distance, disrupting the still air. Starters race around carrying bags and lining up carts. The Snowmass Club Golf Course comes to life as the 24th annual Trashmasters Golf Tournament, billed the ‘World’s Most Unique Golf Tournament,’ gets underway.
Golf carts are lined up two abreast, their seats stacked with fresh Trashmasters gear and sleeves of balls in the cup holders. A buffet breakfast is readied for those who forgot their Wheaties. Trashmasters Scholars chauffeur to and from the driving range players ready to warm up.
At 8:45, the swearing-in ceremony begins. Adorned in wig and robe, Boone Schweitzer, the founder of the Trashmasters, addresses the eager participants; “Do you hereby swear to play the trash, the whole trash and NOTHING but the trash… so help you GOLF?” A resounding YES erupts from the participants, as a deafening cannon signals the start of play.
I first heard about the Trashmasters a couple of years ago. I had seen the tents on the tee boxes and the familiar logo around town, but didn’t really know much about the charitable side of the tournament. I decided that this year, a year after I had gone through the college application process myself, I would attempt to understand the fullness of the Trashmasters. As an avid golfer and an intern at AspenRealLife, I was in the unique position of being able to experience the spectacle of the tournament as well as convey the lasting effects of its scholarship program.
The Trashmasters, formally named Trashmasters International, is a nonprofit corporation that provides four-year scholarships to students in the Roaring Fork Valley. It hosts two golf tournaments per year in July and September and has provided scholarships to more than 70 students, totaling over $1.5 million. It’s supported by volunteers and donations such as silent auction items, food and beverages, and tools and tents from local supporting businesses.
“One hundred percent of our proceeds go to scholarships. Now it is one of the largest scholarship programs in the Valley, and I’m proud of that.” Boone Schweitzer, Founder.
Although the official Trashmasters tournament began in 1993, the idea for it started earlier. The story goes that in the late 1980’s, Founder Boone Schweitzer, Board Member Douglas Pruessing, and Hollywood Star Robert Wagner were out for a round of golf. When Boone shanked a tee shot and it hit a tree, Robert Wagner announced, “Barkie, you’re working on a Barkie.” From there, a group of Snowmass Village locals started playing golf together weekly, rewarding “trash” shots like that and adding new rules as well. Soon, they started playing for money and eventually, as the years progressed, the betting amount increased such that winners were paying for lunch, drinks, and at one point, donating the extra sum to charity, according to Joe Farrell, a longtime friend and supporter of the Trashmasters. That’s when Boone had the idea of starting a golf tournament to finance scholarships. Since then, the annually awarded scholarship money has increased from $500 to $100,000.
Opening Night Registration and Festivities
The night before any golf was played, or any trash garnered, the Trashmasters hosted a dinner and silent auction. Held at the Black Saddle Bar & Grille within the Golf Clubhouse, it was a night of laughter, merriment, reconnection, and recognitions. Steven Crown, owner of the Aspen Skiing Company and a loyal donor, was the 2016 Hall of Fame inductee. Donna Aiken, longtime resident of Snowmass Village and devoted volunteer, was awarded the 2016 Jan Rifkin Memorial Outstanding Volunteer, named for the late Trashmasters supporter Jan Rifkin and presented by her husband, Jim Rifkin. Peter Harriman was honored with the Victor A. Coopersmith Most Exotic Trash title, named after the late Trashmasters supporter Victor Coopersmith. Boone also honored this year’s Trashmasters Scholars: Patricia Rose Pettit-Blair, Mackenzie Langley, Melissa Thrun, and Diana Flores.
Then Jimmy Mallon (aka Jimmy St. Louis) honored Boone, and presented him with a framed picture of a mountain and a caption reading, “Boone, the heart of Aspen, Colorado. It’s all about the kids.”
Later in the evening, I caught up with Jimmy and commented on his touching tribute to Boone. Quite profoundly he responded, “When you meet someone like that, you let them know.”
As spectators, we can only see the façade of the tournament. But this awards ceremony exhibited the decency of the people that drove its inception, its proliferation, and its cause. It was an insight and a testament to the strong moral character of all those who dedicate their time to this tradition.
Furthermore, the proximity to the scholars – the beneficiaries of the past years of giving – encouraged the participants to not only recognize the philanthropic side of the tournament, but also the real, human side of it. While the contributions are going to a cause, they are also going to deserving young men and women. As the Trashmasters motto fittingly states: “It’s all about the kids.”
The Golf Event
To this day, the tournament has maintained its zany nature. There is no need to record shots taken, or even to finish a hole above bogey. All that matters are the number of “Trash” points you get and making sure you make net par so that you obtain those points.
Trash points include hitting bunkers (called a “Sandie”), trees (a “Barkie”), water (a “Drinkie”), and other hazards and bizarre shots. On some holes, you get a point for hitting the tractors parked in the middle of the fairways that have blow-up dummies of politicians in them.
Other wacky twists include: Three different pins to aim for on the 9th; five hole-in-one contests with prizes ranging from a new set of clubs to a $45,000 Chevy Camaro; four closest to the pin contests; Sean Rea, a Pro from the Maroon Creek Club known for his long drives, who for $20 can hit your drive for you; a scratch ticket contest; a cup on the 13th about eight inches wide; and local vendors providing food and beverages on designated tee boxes.
The Tournament Results
The winners this year were Simon Dewsbury for “The Most Stupendous Trash,” earning a “Super Greenie Stiffie Watson Otis” on one hole for a total of 18 points; Roddy Rodgers for the Senior’s Division, Ricky Reh the Men’s Division, Karen Heckman the Women’s Division, and Matt Deam for the Champions Division for the second time.
The Scholarship Students
At this point, I want to thank the scholars for allowing me to interrogate them for a night. These students are dedicated, honest, kind, and fun individuals. They are welcoming and wanted to answer all of my questions, and it is clear how much they value the Trashmasters Scholarship. Amber McKeague, a volunteer for the Trashmasters, corroborated this by showing me just a couple of the many letters of thanks from former scholars.
Ben Armstrong, a 2009 recipient of the Trashmasters writes:
I currently work in Bolivia with a nonprofit organization called Etta Projects in charge of an Ecological Latrine program. Because people have invested so much in my education and upbringing in the Roaring Fork Valley, I feel fortunate to be able to pass on that spirit of giving and improving the world around me through my work… I would like to thank the Trashmasters that allowed me to pursue my dreams and that now is allowing me to improve the lives of those around the world so that they can learn to dream in the first place.
Heidi Vuletich, an alumna of the program and current Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, writes:
I am writing to let you know how grateful I am for the generosity of the Trashmasters Scholarship… Without a doubt, I would not be where I am were it not for the Trashmasters Scholarship… I was the first in my family to go to college, but thanks to this opportunity I will not be the last… All I ever wanted was a chance to achieve great things, and thanks to the scholarship I got that chance. Now, I am working to pay forward the blessing.
The process to attain the Trashmasters Scholarship is demanding. It begins in the spring with a common application submitted for many different scholarships. Approximately 80 students from the Roaring Fork Valley apply. The Trashmasters Scholarship Committee looks at each student, taking into consideration scholastic achievement, extracurricular activities, and financial need. They then invite a select few for a final interview, looking for students they believe will give back to their communities and the world. Ultimately, the committee chooses between one and four students to receive the scholarship and notifies the school counselors before they commit to a college.
The chosen scholars receive $5,000 per year, and because it’s a renewable scholarship, the scholars must both maintain a 3.0 GPA and come back and assist in the Event (a family member can be substituted). In some cases, the money can mean choosing between different schools, taking a job or not, taking out a loan or not. Furthermore, because the money lasts for four years, it acts as a permanent off-set to their tuition.
In physics, the butterfly effect is a concept that small causes can have large effects over time. The theory has been used with weather predictions, specifically the formation of hurricanes, but in this case, the Butterfly effect aptly describes the tradition of the Trashmasters. From a few guys “goofing” around on the golf course, as Joe Farrell describes, to over seventy scholarships and countless student testimonials hailing the impact of the scholarship, the Trashmasters has created a significant outcome from a small decision one evening in Snowmass Village, Colorado.
But all through our lives we have butterfly effects: an influential teacher that piqued our interests; a significant moment that changed our beliefs; a relative that needed our help – events such as these produce repercussions that reverberate through time. What makes the Trashmasters special is that this butterfly effect has a net positive impact on others. Boone and his golf friends influence these students, who then influence others in the world, and so on. Moreover, because Boone and all of those involved still work to keep the Trashmasters going, their effort carves a deeper and deeper impression in society, and the butterfly effect continues to grow. Like an infant river just beginning to find and erode the most efficient path, the Trashmasters are dredging the bottom and expanding the banks.
The Trashmasters claim to host the ‘World’s Most Unique Golf Tournament’ and there is a whole webpage of celebrity quotes attesting to that. But really, the uniqueness of this tournament is due to the people associated with it. Certainly the rules of the game are different; certainly the setup of the course is bizarre; but the reason this tournament exists today is because of Boone’s unique idea, the donors’ and personnel’s exceptional dedication to a cause, and the impressive talent of the students. The tournament might be unique, but the people behind it are special.
A couple of days after the tournament, I ran into Boone at the Snowmass Club. I was with a friend, who incidentally enough, remembered Boone finding and turning in his watch that he had lost a couple of years ago. When they greeted each other, my friend expressed his gratitude for Boone’s honesty. Boone jokingly replied that he wanted to go to Vegas with it, but earnestly added, “I believe in karma.” Whether karma is real, or whether Boone experiences its returns, we will never know. But what we do know is that the actions guided by karma certainly are real – just ask my friend who lost his watch or the seventy scholars grateful for Boone’s generosity. And it is these actions, combined with Jimmy’s principle – “When you meet someone like that you let them know” – that enhance the butterfly effect.
It is on this undeniable truth that the premise of the Trashmasters lies. The same one that led Jimmy to deliver his picture of the mountain to Boone. The same one that led Boone to return my friend’s watch. And the same one that continues to push the annual existence of the Trashmasters. “When you meet someone like that you let them know.” The Trashmasters lets the scholars know that they are special by enabling them to reach higher potentials, influence others, and ultimately, to give back.
Walt Whitman wrote a poem entitled “O Me! O Life!” where he states:
‘O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’
Answer: That you are here. That life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
It is with this that I write that the Trashmasters has contributed a verse. A positive verse, shining similar to the generous light of karma. And a verse that has affected subsequent verses such that the play is different, better, and will be remembered.
Become A Part of the Legacy
This fall, the Trashmasters will host Trash 2, a tournament “For the Locals.” The Trashmasters welcomes any new donors, participants, and volunteers. To register for the fall event click here.
Additionally, for more information and many more photos, visit the Trashmasters Facebook Page here.
Photo credit: Melissa Thrun ’16 and Christopher Gsell/AspenRealLife