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PGN FEATURE: Nettles Invite Takes Aim at New Pittsburgh Golf Tradition

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Action from the first Timothy E. Nettles Memorial Invitational at St. Clair Country Club. (SUBMITTED)

UPPER ST. CLAIR, Pa. — To start an endeavor, it takes motivation and opportunity.

To start a tradition, it takes love and dedication.

Fortunately for the folks behind the Timothy E. Nettles Memorial Invitational, set to tee off Monday for its second edition at St. Clair Country Club, all those ingredients converged to create an event that seems to have staying power on the western Pennsylvania golf calendar.

A regional Enterprise executive, Tim Nettles was passionate about golf and philanthropy. Following his sudden unexpected death in 2018, his wife Diane and his sons Chuck and Tom developed a persistent, collective thought to honor him via those twin pursuits.

So the motivation was there. Then, 2020 provided the opportunity.

“We kicked it around before but it was too soon, too raw,” the 32-year-old Chuck Nettles told me last week. “Then we’re in early May of 2020 and everyone is miserable. We were sitting around at our mom’s house, saying, ‘Let’s put something on the calendar to look forward to. Let’s run an independent tournament and see if it works.’

“Everybody was looking to get out of the house last year, so that helped.”

Indeed, the pandemic closed so many doors, but opened a window for the Nettles Family. With many Monday outings and events cancelled last summer, there was a latent hunger for something on the local docket.

The result was a two-pronged tournament, consisting of the ‘T-Bone’ (Tim’s nickname) better-ball pro-am on Monday, run concurrently with a two-day, 36-hole stroke play event for pros and scratch amateurs. The first iteration of the Nettles Invitational raised $27,000, split among six of Tim’s favorite charities.

Connor Schmidt, middle, receives his 2020 open trophy and low-am crystal from the Nettles brothers. (SUBMITTED)

And that’s to say nothing of the purse — funded independently of sponsors — that awarded $7,500 to last year’s low pro. That number has bumped to $10,000 this year, with low am getting $750 in pro-shop credit. Every competitor receives some form of prize, including crystal for low am, low senior, low pro and low sponsor amateur for the pro-am.

Venetia native and Drexel University standout Connor Schmidt grabbed the trophy last September, a fitting result considering he grew up caddying at St. Clair Country Club and, like Tom and Chuck, he’s a Peters Township grad.

“I was honored to be the inaugural champion,” said Schmidt, who’s back to defend his title. “It’s a great event and an even better field this year.”

That’s saying something, considering last year’s congregation included two Pittsburgh-bred USGA champions in Nathan Smith and Sean Knapp, plus a collection of local high school and college studs, mini-tour pros and club pros from across the region.

This year’s biggest name is 23-year-old Jacksonville-based Doc Redman, the 2017 U.S. Amateur champion who also has a second-place result on the PGA Tour to his name. Three-time PGA Tour member Kyle Reifers, 37, also joins the crew this year.

Chuck Nettles said former Oakmont Country Club head professional Bob Ford and current Oakmont pro Devin Gee have helped the family “brainstorm” and contact high-level players for the first two years of the tournament. Plus, both Chuck and Tom Nettles — a 26-year-old touring pro — have built quite the local network.

The result is a field that stacks up favorably with any annual tourney in the region.

“It’s very competitive,” Chuck Nettles said. “Growing up around golf in western Pennsylvania and playing in all the events, you become friends with a lot of these guys. A lot of the club pros who are involved have been mentors to Tommy and me.”

Along with the creation of a non-profit organization and a board of directors, the Nettles Invitational is also partnering with the Evans Scholars Foundation from this point forward. Through this program, a caddy from a western Pennsylvania course will receive full tuition, room and board for four years. Nettles said the plan is to grow the partnership to four scholarships.

But at the heart of the event are two pillars: Golf and family.

As far as the first pillar is concerned, St. Clair Country Club head pro Jay Mull and superintendent Eric Materkowski did much to impress in Year 1, producing course conditions that Nettles called “literally perfect.” Doesn’t hurt that early September typically produces the most temperate weather conditions this region has to offer.

“Everybody raved about the golf course,” Nettles said .”It was the best I’ve seen it. It’s a wonderful place and the course shows out great. We’re just trying to share it and see what it turns into.”

(SUBMITTED)

And as far as family goes, thank Diane Nettles for being the emotional fulcrum of the effort. In the non-golf portion of the proceedings, highlighted by a pairings party Sunday night and a formal dinner after the first round, she was the star of the inaugural edition.

“My mom has been a total rock throughout this whole thing,” Nettles said. “She gave a speech last year and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.”

There were plenty of tears shed three years ago when Tim Nettles passed, but the hope is that by channeling his spirit through a multi-day celebration of golf, the things he cared about can be enriched.

For a man who was on the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association board, a director at Evans Scholars, and part of the committee for the Pirate Alumni Association golf tournament, there’s no question which pastime had his attention.

As such, places like the WPGA, the Fownes Foundation and California University of Pennsylvania’s Pro Golf Management program are among the many beneficiaries of sponsor and participant generosity. Seventy percent of those funds go to charity, with the other 30 getting poured right back into the event.

Chuck Nettles likes to think his dad would be pleased.

“If Dad was still here and threw a party every year, this is how he would treat his friends,” Chuck said. “He was a super-generous guy, so I have to give him credit for bringing all this together.

“If he were here, though, he would defer credit to his friends. After Dad died, we had this incredible outpouring of support. Three years removed I’m still blown away.”

A 15-year veteran of sports media, Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) is the founding editor of PGN. Matt is a lifelong golfer with a passion for all aspects of the sport, from technique to courses to competition. His experience ranges from reporting on Pittsburgh's major-league beats, to broadcasting a variety of sports, to public relations, multimedia production and social media.

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