The Choo-Choo Invitational started with an idea: Why couldn't Chattanooga host a highly rated amateur golf tournament every year?

Bring in the best players from across the Southeast, a few from other parts of the country and a few from other countries to compete in a haven for amateur golf.

Chris Schmidt had the idea. Council Fire ownership and leadership loved the idea.

It worked out last year. It's even better this year with a stronger field, playing Monday through Wednesday.

"If the U.S. Amateur is a five-star tournament, and the Southern Am [held last weekend at The Honors Course] is a four-star," Schmidt said, "then this is a two-a-half star. If we could get it to three and a half stars, then we'd all be tickled."

The field of 96 golfers - including the senior division - includes golfers from 28 colleges, 12 states and five countries.

"I recognize 75 percent of the names," said Austin Jackson, a Samford University sophomore and son of Tennessee Golf Hall of Fame member Tim Jackson from Germantown.

"It's one of the top tournaments already," Jackson said. "There's a ton of names and a bunch of good players. It's about as big as the Magnolia Amateur or the Spirit of America.

"It's quickly rising because of the course, and the guys who run it are pretty sharp."

Schmidt and tournament co-director Wes Gilliland have slated a little in-state challenge for Vanderbilt, Tennessee and the UT-Chattanooga. Each of those schools has at least four players participating. In every case possible, they're all playing in the same group.

Mocs, Vols and Commodores coming together for the good of the game and good of the tournament.

"Guess I'd better swap out my hat so I don't show favoritism to one school or another," Schmidt joked Saturday.

It's no joke that the Choo-Choo Invitational has increased in stature before competition begins in its second year. Competitors earn World Amateur Golf Ranking points as well as points from, and Tennessee residents earn points toward the TGA Player of the Year award.

"I wasn't sure how easy it would be to get the amateurs to play, but we've done it," Gilliland said. "Chris was very aggressive in contacting these players. We had a good field for last year, but this year's is pretty amazing.

"We've got at least six U.S. Amateur qualifiers."

All of the players - either invited or who qualified - will be treated to a dinner with former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer delivering a motivational speech.

"I'm looking forward to it," Southern Miss golfer Tyler Peggs said. "I already have one autograph. But I'm sure my dad would like one, too."

Contact David Uchiyama at or 423-757-6484. Follow him at