The newly acquired back room at the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame on West Third Street in Jamestown serves as the organization’s board room. The large space has recently been painted, new carpeting has been installed and some furniture has been moved in, but the walls have nothing hanging on them as of yet.
As Jack Munella Sr. and Mike Giunta took a seat at a table in the middle of the expanse earlier this week, I couldn’t help but think that they would be able to provide plenty of golf memorabilia to cover those walls if the opportunity presented itself.
Because, as the 2018 Italian-American Charity Golf Tournament opens today at Holiday Valley Resort in Ellicottville, we are reminded of just how much history has been made during the last 48 years.
Since its inception in 1971, the I-A has been held at three different golf courses — Jackson Valley Country Club, Peek’n Peak and Holiday Valley; had 12 different chairmen; raised in excess of $1.3 million toward the fight against cancer; and had thousands of men circle their calendars each June for the love of the game, their ancestry and the cause.
And Munella, 76, and Giunta, 77, both original committee members, have had a front-row seat from the start. They even remember the “headquarters” for the early tournaments were at Giunta’s barber shop.
“I used to get all the phone calls. They were driving me crazy,” Giunta said. “It was all worth it.”
He added: “The unique thing about it is that the Italian-American gets the invitation and has to invite a non-Italian-American,” he said. “You can go through the whole United States and you’re not going to find that many tournaments like this.
“We show them our love of food and music, and we have a good time. That was the main reason. That was it, and it’s worked out very, very successfully.”
The brainchild of Sam Restivo — he got the idea, Munella, said from a similar tournament that was sponsored by the local Jewish community — the I-A has been going strong since just before Lee Trevino defeated Jack Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff to win the U.S. Open at the East Course at Merion Golf Club in June 1971. But both Munella and Giunta agreed that the original committee — comprised of 12 or 13 — couldn’t have known how big a deal the event would become nearly 50 years later.
“It’s turned into a family vacation,” Giunta said.
The last year Munella played, in 2015, his two sons and his two grandsons were also in the field. And once he stepped down as a committee member, the next generation of Italian-Americans took over and have kept the tournament running like never before, all the while donating money toward the fight against cancer.
I-A week began Wednesday night with the “Kick-Off Banquet at St. John’s Church Hall in Jamestown. By early this morning, the first of 82 teams took to the tee box to hit their first shots. The defending champions are John Trussalo and Tim Magnuson.
Munella and Giunta will be there to enjoy it all, even if they won’t be chasing a white ball around the course. Munella said his game isn’t what it used to be, while Giunta’s back prevents him from getting out regularly.
But while the two longtime friends won’t find their names on the large scoreboard at Holiday Valley this weekend, they can take pride in knowing that their work — and that of the other guys on that original committee nearly a half-century ago — paved the way for an event that has stood the test of time.