As I began archiving champions for our website in 2018, quite a few golf tournaments held for 50+ years appeared that were unfamiliar to me. Despite having played tournament golf for almost 50 years and compiling statistics as mr. stat for numerous tours and tournaments for over 25 years, my research uncovered (for me) The Wilkins Kirby in Newnan, The Alvin Everett in Rome, The Pomp Schaefer in Carrollton and The Quitman Cup in Quitman, among others. But the one that really caught my attention, I suppose mainly because of it name, was The Chicken Dinner Tournament in LaFayette.
2023 marked the 87th playing of the Chicken Dinner Tournament. Each one has been held at LaFayette Golf Course, a public course operated by the city of LaFayette. Being curious about what has held this tournament together since 1937, I decided to check it out by playing in the tournament. From my first call to the pro shop to putting my clubs in the trunk to head home, everyone I met associated with the tournament actually seemed to enjoy their role. Very refreshing! I could not have felt more welcomed!
The course was fun to play with a nice variety of holes. At first glance it looked easy, but that proved not to be the case for me! 12 or so holes force you to decide between an aggressive or conservative decision to make from the tee. Much too often I found myself looking back from the green questioning the aggressive decision I made on the tee. Didn’t win anything, but I broke 80 both days, didn’t lose any balls, and met some really nice folks.
Eddie Jackson has been golf professional at LaFayette GC since 2005. Jackson has won the Chicken Dinner 5 times, winning consecutively from 1978-1982, the only years he participated in it. (This makes him undefeated in the Chicken Dinner!) Eddie was kind enough to sit down with me between rounds and I asked him what he thought made this tournament so successful. He immediately gave praise to the City of LaFayette. He said the city takes a great deal of pride in the golf course while realizing it’s importance to, and impact on, the citizens and businesses of LaFayette. The city keeps the course in excellent playable condition. In fact they replaced the long-time bent grass greens with Tif-Eagle Bermuda just last summer and the greens are currently rolling as well as anybody could ask for.
Back to the tournament, another reason for its longevity according to Jackson, is the loyalty of the LaFayette golfers. Many grew up competing against each other in the Chicken Dinner, and when tournament time comes around each June, the golfers who have moved elsewhere come back home to join the locals and keep the tradition alive. Golfers from Chattanooga, Rome and other towns surrounding LaFayette also join in the mix to make a nice field for a top-notch event. It certainly has that down home feel with spectators following the leaders down the stretch and cheering on their favorites. From the players and spectators gathered around the scoreboard at the end came applause as the names of the top 4 finishers in each flight were announced. Brought back good memories of small-town tournaments I played in back in the 1970s and 1980s.
All players begin the tournament on the first hole with their names announced as they step up to hit their opening shot. Attached to the top of the flagstick on each green is a current year Chicken Dinner pin flag. USGA rules apply to play. A neat pre-tournament tee gift (this year a really cool Chicken Dinner t-shirt) is given to each participant and nice tournament prizes (this year a Traeger pellet grill, a Blackstone grill, a Titleist Vokey wedge and 4 rounds of golf) are awarded to the winners. Plus there is that wonderful BBQ chicken dinner available to players on Saturday. All nice touches added to an already quality event.
Eddie Jackson, Ched Jackson and the rest of the LaFayette GC staff, along with LaFayette Parks and Recreation Director Jason Shattuck, put all the parts together to make the 2023 Chicken Dinner Tournament an enjoyable experience for me. It’s a special tournament with all the ingredients in place to continue for many more years. Winner Winner Chicken Dinner. Put this one on your list!