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Cleveland: US Women’s Championship to Old Waverley

Sixteen years after the fact, it still seems hard to believe West Point’s George Bryan pulled off what he pulled off.

Bryan, in June of 1999, brought the U.S. Women’s Open Championship to Old Waverley, the lovely golf course he built outside of his hometown. Covered by media from all over the planet, the USGA event was attended by more than 130,000 spectators. It was a smashing success.

The event showed Mississippi at its finest. I well remember riding in the media van back to the parking lot late one afternoon and a writer from Golf World asking, “Are people here always this nice?”

The 1999 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, won by Hall of Famer Julie Inkster, stands as the most prestigious, most widely covered sports event ever held in the Magnolia State with one possible exception: the 1889 world bare knuckles heavyweight boxing championship featuring the legendary John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain at Richburg, just south of Hattiesburg.

That fight was moved from New Orleans at the last minute because bare-knuckles prize fighting was illegal in 38 states, including both Louisiana and Mississippi. When Mississippi lawmen tried to stop the fight, referee Bat Masterson — yes, that Bat Masterson — brandished pistols. The lawmen quickly disappeared and the event went on.

The only weapons George Bryan used to bring the U.S. Open to West Point were his intellect, vision, charm and the ability to unite public, corporate and government support behind his goal.

Bringing the U.S. Open to rural Mississippi is just one reason why George Bryan will receive The Rube Award for his lifetime of contributions to Mississippi sports. The Rube Award, named for longtime Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum executive director Michael Rubenstein, will be presented August 1 at the MSHOF induction banquet at the Jackson Convention Complex.

Bryan, a Mississippi State graduate and former CEO of Bryan Foods, becomes the fourth winner of the Rube Award, following Ben Puckett, Boo Ferriss and Archie Manning.

Bryan also has brought several national and regional amateur golf events to Old Waverly, including the Southern Amateur and the SEC Championship. He has been a huge supporter of junior golf in the state. Bryan recently received the Mississippi Golf Association’s first Distinguished Service Award, which will go annually “to an individual who embodies the MGA’s mission and strives to promote the game of the golf and the traditions upon which it is based.”

And that’s just what he has done for golf. Bryan, both individually and through his corporate connections, has been a huge supporter of high school and college athletics in the state.

At 71, Bryan is not slowing down. He and Mossy Oak CEO Toxey Haas have co-founded Mossy Oak Golf Club, which is under construction, across the street from Old Waverly. The new course has been designed by famed architect Gil Hanse, who has been finishing the 2016 Olympics course in Rio de Janeiro at the same time.

As has been the case with Old Waverley, Mossy Oak Golf Club likely will rank among the nation’s top 100 courses the day it opens in the fall of 2016.

The MSHOF will induct six new members at the August 1 banquet: Mike Dennis, Brett Favre, Steve Knight, Fred McAfee, Clarence Weatherspoon and Gwen White. For ticket information, go to msfame.com or call 601 982-8264.

Rick Cleveland 2007.jpg

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com) is executive director of the Mississippi Sports hall of Fame and Museum.

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
Sports Editor

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