Friday, February 20, 2009

The faded photo from 1927 hangs on a wall at Lynn Haven's Panama Country Club. It shows Walter Sherman--local lumber pioneer and country club founder--presenting the first-ever Sherman Invitational winner's trophy to D.A.Vann of Baton Rouge.

No one knew it at the time, but the event would blossom into one of the most prestigious amateur tournaments in the Southeast, a title that annually attracts the region's top golfers. Past winners have even included a future PGA Tour winner--Gardner Dickinson.

The photo intrigued me. Just who was this Vann? I called Baton Rouge information for phone listings but wasn't hopeful. What were the odds I'd locate a family member after 73 years?

Frances Vann, 84, answered my call.

"That's my husband Dubose," she told me. "But everyone called him Duby. When we married in 1935 he was a scratch golfer. He and his friends were always traveling to golf courses for events. He was an outdoorsman. We loved traveling to Canada to fish.

"Duby was an entrepreneur. He played the stock market and raised cattle on property we owned along the Mississippi River. He ran it like a plantation."

Vann was 55 when he died of bronchitis in 1963.

"Duby taught me golf," Frances said. "I played regularly until me heath declined a couple years ago." And while Duby claimed the very first Sherman Invitational trophy, Frances holds a distinction all her own.

"In the 1950s," she told me, "I won the Baton Rouge Ladies' Golf Championship the last year they held the event. So I like to tell people that at age 84 I'm still the Baton Rouge ladies' golf champion."

I also spoke to Vann's daughter Geri, 49, who had no idea of her father's sporting accomplishments.

"He died when I was so young," she said. "But this is neat to hear. It validates everything I've always heard about Dad, that he loved life and was a real go-getter."

To his family, of course, Vann was never just a faded image in a dusty frame. He was husband and father--and, for one year at least, our champion golfer.
Originally published May 3, 2000, Panama City News Herald