It’s not officially called “The Tiger Godwin Invitational,” at least not yet, but that’s what many around the county are calling the Youth Villa Classic in Bartow, which begins Saturday.
It’s been 6 years since someone other than Godwin has won the largest individual golf tournament in Polk County, an institution at Bartow Golf Course for almost six decades. Godwin’s come-from-behind victory in 2021 certainly should not have been a surprise, even if he was seemingly out of it after two of the three rounds.
With just 15 holes to play last year, Godwin trailed Florida Southern standout and Winter Haven resident Adam Alvarez by five shots. But somehow, maybe because it’s Godwin’s tournament, the now 37-year-old slowly crept back into contention, making a trio of birdies on holes 10 through 12.
With a birdie on the 18th, Godwin earned both a victory and a spot in history, becoming the first player to win four straight, his rule dating all the way back to 2016. The tournament was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.
A slew of college players have lined up in an attempt to dethrone him.
Headlining the college group will be Adam Alvarez, who like Godwin grew up playing at Bartow Golf Course and is coming off another strong season at perennial power-house Florida Southern. In his redshirt freshman year, Alvarez led the team in scoring and took home second-team All-Sunshine State Conference honors.
Teammate Bryce Walker, another Bartow native who joined Alvarez at the National Tournament last week, will be another player to watch this weekend after finishing his sophomore year at Florida Southern. This will be the second year competing in the Villa for Walker, and third for Alvarez.
Also among the non-collegiate favorites competing this weekend are 2019 runner-up Drewby Guffey, 2016 winner Kelly Sellers, and fellow past champion Jeff Fleeman.
“We have pretty much everybody back for this year,” says tournament director and Bartow Pro Chris Banks. “Jamie Howell, who is a past champion, is back this year. Luke Bardwell is coming back to play.”
“Any of those guys can win again,” says Banks. “We probably have 12 guys who can get to double digits under par. The field is that deep.
“Tiger is obviously the buzz around here. Tiger Godwin has the Tiger Woods effect at Bartow golf course. But Adam is going to be tough to beat, and Kelly is playing and practicing a lot. It’s definitely going to be tight.”
Prior to Godwin’s four victories, Bartow’s Sellers won in 2016 with an 18-under par score. Long-time Villa veteran Jimmy Morris won in 2015, and Marc Dull won his third Villa title in 2014.
The event supports its namesake, the Youth Villa of Bartow, and is closing in on gifting $1,000,000 to the cause.
Tee times begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, with the final group of the championship flight starting at 12:10 p.m. The event spans 54 holes, finishing Monday.
Golf Etc. Lakeland is sponsoring a series of summer junior tour events this year, a new addition to the area’s calendar of events.
The Tour offers divisions from 8 to 18 years of age, caddies are welcome at all ages, and gift certificates from Golf Etc. are awarded for winners.
June 27 — Cleveland Heights Golf Course ($35).
July 27 — The Links of Sandpiper ($35).
July 30 — 58th Youth Villa Classic Begins Saturday, Parent/Child, Bartow Golf Course ($100).
For more information or to register call Golf Etc. at (863) 687-7274.