Dooher family golf tourney turning 30

Contributed PhotoThe Dooher Cup, imported from Ireland years ago, is a crystal mug awarded to the net winner of the annual Northern Open, a family golf tournament which will celebrate 30 years later this month at Willowbrook Golf Course.

Back in 1989, Jim Dooher decided he wanted to start a family golf tournament.

Jim and two of his brothers, John and George, along with various other friends and family members, originally decided to take their show on the road. The Northern Open, as it was dubbed, was played in Western New York, the Finger Lakes, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

Now turning 30, the tournament has settled in Niagara County, from where most of the Dooher clan hails. And thanks to a special scoring system, an 11-year-old won last year's trophy and remaining the Dooher brothers — Jim passed away, but John and George are now in their 80s — remain competitive.

The Dooher family tournament represents the best of sport. It's turned into a full-fledged family reunion, a semi-competitive event that brings multiple generations together each year.

Family and friends make the trek from as far as Arizona to take part in the festivities. Kay, a sister of the Dooher trio, has made the trip up from Florida for many years. Other sisters, Beth and MaryEllen, have hosted family get-togethers before and after the tournaments.

"It's really something," said Dan Dooher, a senior trial attorney in the with environmental crimes section of the Department of Justice in Washington who serves as one of the current organizers.

Dan Dooher was born in Niagara Falls, where he lived until 1967. His father, John, worked for Xerox, moving the family to nearby Webster before taking a job with RCA in southern New Jersey.

"There's still a lot of extended family out in Western New York," Dan said. "My father and all of his siblings, my mom and stepmom, were all born and raised in the Falls. The vast majority got started in the Falls."

The low-net winner of the tournament takes home the Dooher Cup, a crystal trophy imported from Ireland by Jim Dooher. It is mounted to a wooden base, with small plaques listed each year's winner.

The current trophy holder is Jude Voelkl, who won last year at just 11 years old. The tournament's scoring system, the "Hidden Hole Callaway," uses a deck of cards to pick random holes to which a handicap will be assigned, allowing for players of all skill levels to remain competitive. It, like the Cup, was discovered by Jim in the tournament's early years. For integrity's sake, the card picker has traditionally been Sister Mary Cecilia, a first cousin of the Doohers and Buffalo nun, or one of the youngest family members.

Men and women of all ages compete. The elder statesman, John Dooher, is now 88, while last year's youngest competitor, second cousin RJ Murray, was 9. As the tournament morphed into a true family event, it was shortened from 18 holes to nine.

The low-gross winner, in recognition of a stellar overall round, is awarded an embroidered golf shirt from Dan the Man on Pine Avenue. There are also prizes, of course, for closest to the pin and longest drive.

The tournament is followed by a reception and picnic dinner, complete with a cake from the DiCamillo Bakery — owned and operated by Dooher cousins (though marriage), of course.

This year's tournament is scheduled for Aug. 24 at Willowbrook Golf Course.