It's 7:45 Monday morning and Lee Greenwood's modern anthem "God Bless the U.S.A." is blaring from loudspeakers placed just outside the Brainerd Golf Course clubhouse, loudly serenading every squirrel, robin and black snake that calls the venerable layout its home.
Within an hour a crisply attired honor guard trio of David Broyles, David Sherrill and Jim Grisard from American Legion Post 95 in East Ridge is there to lead 80 women decked out in various combinations of red, white and blue in the Pledge of Allegiance. Immediately after that, Grisard puts a bugle to his lips and masterfully delivers the "Call to Colors." Then all three men lift rifles skyward for a three-gun salute ( firing blanks, of course).
Talk about your shotgun start.
And welcome to the fifth annual Firecracker — the coolest, most patriotic, most warm-hearted golf tournament imaginable.
"We go to tournaments all over the area, Atlanta, everywhere," said Tresa Goodroe, who partnered with Betty Sadosuk to win the event in a scorecard playoff. "And none of them are as much fun as this. Just the camaraderie. Everyone is so supportive of you, even if you're playing against them."
Asked what she would do with her first-place prize of a large box of fireworks, Sadosuk said, "Give them to my nephew. He can shoot them off out in the country."
Yet winning the Firecracker's entertaining format of 40 two-woman teams playing six holes of select shot, six holes of alternate shot and six holes of best ball is hardly the chief reason for the event.
"We love to dress up; we love the format," said Chee Chee Allen, who along with her playing partner, Rosalie Basten, wore a blue T-shirt that had 50 white wine glasses where stars normally would be placed on an American flag and red wine bottles for stripes.
"We also enjoy a glass of wine on occasion," said a grinning Basten, who added of their outfits, which included decorative hats and necklaces made of red, white and blue plastic stars that glowed in the dark: "Kind of hard to play golf with all of this paraphernalia on."
What really made the Firecracker special this year, however, was what the Brainerd Women's Golf Association — especially Fran Geier and Cheryl Royer — did to honor the military veterans in these women's lives. On each of the course's holes were placards that showed pictures of servicemen living and deceased who served their country.
Said Royer, deflecting praise for a flawless effort: "It takes a lot of ladies. It takes a village."
It also takes a big heart. Susan Thurman, co-director of the Firecracker, honored both her father Frank Ingram, who served in the Army during World War II, and her husband Tom Thurman, who served in the Philippines during the Vietnam War, by sponsoring one such hole.
"To see these ladies take the initiative to honor their loved ones means a lot," Tom Thurman said. "It's nice to see veterans getting treated with the respect they deserve. When I got back from Vietnam — and I supported the war from the Philippines; I wasn't in the war in Vietnam — a lot of people called us baby killers and said bad things about our mothers. It was tough. And it was a surprise, because the only news we were getting over there was from the Stars & Stripes (newspaper) and Armed Forces Radio. We didn't know what hippies were. We didn't know how unpopular the war was. We were just serving our country. We were fighting for their right to talk that way about us."
It was certainly a different era from the one Susan Thurman discovered when she started the Red Bank High School Hall of Fame a few years ago to honor those graduates who had done the most to make a difference in the world.
"In 1942 every male in that graduating class enlisted in the military," she said. "That's how much our country meant to us back then."
So they divided into four flights Monday morning — Lady Liberty, Liberty Bell, Rosie Riveter and Betsy Ross — wore their patriotic outfits and played a round of golf to honor both their living and dead service heroes.
And it was an especially touching morning for Jean Hudgins, whose mother Ella Mae Bellenger Tolbert was a real-life Rosie the Riveter during World War II for the high-security manufacturer Bechtel-McCone in Birmingham, Alabama.
"She put radios in B-29s," Hudgins said of the plane type that dropped the atom bomb. "Sometimes they'd see dried blood in the gun wells. Mickey Rooney's wife worked in that plant. Bing Crosby visited there."
Until Monday, the only twosome to win the Firecracker (and firecrackers) were Linda Mullins and Kay McDaniel, the Lee University professor who played Wimbledon six times in the 1980s after reaching the NCAA finals at LSU.
Surgery on four vertebrae in her neck limited McDaniel's motion enough this time that the duo came up three strokes back.
Nevertheless, she'll happily return next year, and most likely in good health.
"I just love it that it's a team event," McDaniel said before the tourney began. "All the red, white and blue. They put on a great show here every year. And my grandfather, William Bill, served in the Army in World War II. So this is certainly special to me."
Standing nearby was local golfing legend Maggie Scott. With a smile she said, "I've lost every year, so that's a bad thing."
Then she turned serious, as those whose family members have sacrificed for the good of this country — her father served in World War II; her grandfather served in the calvary during World War I — tend to do at the first mention of patriotism and sacrifice.
"Everything about our country is special," she said. "Or it should be."
If the Firecracker doesn't perfectly celebrate that sentiment, nothing does.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.