U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Players’ dinner held aboard nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis July 17, 2011 By David Shefter, USGA

Guest speaker Johnny Miller, the 1964 U.S. Junior Amateur and 1973 U.S. Open champion, talked about what those two national titles meant to his Hall of Fame golf career. (John Mummert/USGA)

Bremerton, Wash. – George Cunningham had been told by his father what to expect aboard the USS John C. Stennis.

But hearing what a nuclear-powered U.S. Navy aircraft carrier looks like and actually seeing one in person is a huge difference.

The 15-year-old from Litchfield Park, Ariz., discovered that on Sunday night when the players’ dinner for the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur was held on the 1,092-foot vessel, the seventh Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier in the U.S. Navy fleet.

This is the coolest thing ever, said Cunningham, a high school sophomore competing in his second Junior Amateur. Cunningham’s father had been a visitor aboard an aircraft carrier in San Diego. He described it, but it’s nothing like it until you see it in real life.

Just the sheer size of it. You never really know it’s going to be that big.

 

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Past Junior Amateur champions Jim Liu (right) and Jordan Spieth lead the competitors into the players' dinner aboard the USS John C. Stennis. (John Mummert/USGA) 

Those were the popular sentiments for the approximately 110 competitors who took advantage of the opportunity to tour the 20-story high carrier, which can hold up to 85 aircraft and takes up 4½ acres of space. Prior to the dinner, the players saw the flight deck, hangar, bridge and other non-sensitive areas. Due to security reasons, some areas of the ship were off-limits.

It was pretty sweet, said 17-year-old Cody Proveaux of Leesville, S.C. They told me all the stuff that was up on the bridge. They can track another ship all the way across the country. That’s pretty cool.

Jonathan De Los Reyes, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Calif., who is headed to St. Mary’s College in the fall, was impressed by the size of the anchors.

The chains that they use; each link was like 300 pounds, said De Los Reyes. They were massive.

Unfortunately for the players and the 600 other guests at the dinner, none of the planes were in the massive hangar, even though the Stennis will deploy for a six- to eight-month tour of Afghanistan and Iraq in late July, not long after the Junior Amateur championship match is held at Gold Mountain Golf Club’s Olympic Course. The aircraft and helicopters will join up with the vessel once it departs Naval Base Kitsap and is out in the Pacific Ocean.

The dinner aboard the Stennis was the culmination of 18 months of planning between the city of Bremerton and the U.S. Navy. Just to get clearance to hold the festivities, clearances had to be made at the highest levels. But Scott Alexander, the director of golf at Gold Mountain, and other members of the Junior Amateur host committee felt having the players’ dinner on the Naval base was the right way to showcase the community.

We’re a big Navy town, said Alexander. That’s really what our heart and soul is because of Naval Base Kitsap.

The festivities began with all the players being taken from the hangar to the flight deck via one of the massive elevators. The National Anthem was played before Geoffrey Yang, Chairman of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship Committee, introduced the event’s first speaker.

 

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Admiral Craig S. Faller, the Commander Carrier of Strike Group 3, told the audience that 6,000 men and women work on the Stennis, which was named after the former Mississippi Senator, who served from 1947-89. At the end of his moving speech, Faller drew a standing ovation. He was followed by Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent and Congressman Norm Dicks (D-Washington), a Bremerton, Wash., native who knew Senator Stennis. Also introduced were Ron Reis, Commanding Officer for the USS John C. Stennis and Pete Dawson, the Commanding Officer for Naval Base Kitsap.

 

The evening ended with guest speaker Johnny Miller, who along with Tiger Woods is one of two players to win the U.S. Junior Amateur (1964) and U.S. Open (1973). Miller explained how his two USGA victories were pivotal moments in his Hall of Fame career. He drew laughs when recounting stories about Lee Trevino and he even choked up when recalling how much his father had played a role in his development, both on and off the course.

He ended his speech by paying tribute to the men and women of the Stennis.

This puts it all in perspective, doesn’t it? he said. It’s tremendous being on this carrier. Looking at this flight deck, it’s just unbelievable what this stands for. It would be nice if the world didn’t need a carrier, but we do need it to protect our freedoms.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him at dshefter@usga.org. 

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