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The Greatest Golfer kicks off today

To say it’s been a labor of love for Todd Franko and the staff around the Greatest Golfer may be an understatement. In their 13th season, 350 golfers from six states will converge on the Mahoning Valley this weekend to test their mettle during the 56-hole amateur tournament that will take place around the area.

It’s the third consecutive season of growth in numbers, but the tournament is about more than “winning.”

“To me, Greatest is competition third, it’s first about comradery and community, and then third to me is competition,” Franko commented. “The fourth C that I use is commerce. We need the businesses to believe in us, we need the businesses to believe in the golf community as responses to their interests so that it creates this nice little circle.

“Their sponsorship helps build the machine, and keeps the golfer costs to extremely minimal prices. It’s not just for the private country club sect, it’s also for the meat and potatoes public golfer that’s one of our key constitutes.”

Taking place at the Mill Creek and Squaw Creek golf courses today and Saturday it expands to include play at Tippecanoe and Avalon Lakes. The final 96 golfers will have the opportunity to compete at the Lake Club in Canfield on Sunday. Every golf course in the area is represented by at least one player during the weekend event.

“We got a start because of the vision and philanthropy of Ed and Chris Muransky, since day one the Lake Club has gifted the Sunday championship round,” Franko said. “Mill Creek has been a voice with us since day one, and one of our strongest partnerships, and one of our most vital.

“The private courses really rallied to make themselves available. The public courses are awesome and they’re the lifeblood, but everybody wants their chance to get to the most exclusive courses.”

More so than some other sports, golf carries a very socialized element, with the Greatest Golfer allowing friendships to be created that’ll last many years. Franko said that some even plan their summer vacations around the Greatest events, many of whom have played in tournament for several years.

Building an event so large is easier said than done with players of all ages participating in different rounds.

“The numbers tell the story. The amount of kids who get their start in competitive golf, there are a lot kids under age 12. Were kind of the local league with high school golfers and I think that starts us off,” Franko said, as Ken Keller, a former U17 Greatest competitor looks toward the U.S Amateur Championship next week. “When you continue through high school it’s precious to see the friendships that develop within the golf community.

“Our adults, we see a lot of young 20-somethings and 30-somethings that are getting into the game, and we think that Greatest puts something on the mantle and something on the bulletin board that says I have something to play for.”

With the likes of Keller, and fellow YSU teammate Bryan Kordupel, who only missed the U.S. Amateur by a single stroke coming through the system, there’s always an opportunity to see one of the next big talents come off of the green Sunday afternoon.

“I think that says a lot about the quality of the Valley’s golf,” Franko added.

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