When Chad Randle steps onto the first tee at the Washita Valley Classic golf tournament on July 4, he's not sure what he'll feel.
It is the tournament he knows best — the 86th edition of Oklahoma's oldest invitational — on the Cottonwood Creek Golf Course he knows best, thanks to the time his father, Charlie Randle, spent there with him and the many other people he impacted.
But this year is different, for both Chad and course owners Jerry and Fran Morris; Charlie Randle won't be there.
"On an emotional level, I don't even know how I'll handle it," Chad said while sitting in the club house with the third generation Randle, Jaxon, ready to hit the links. Charlie passed away at the end of last April.
That Cottonwood Creek center piece is now called the Charlie Randle Memorial Clubhouse, and for good reason. He may not have built it — the course opened in 1915 — but he certainly treated it like his own masterpiece. Charlie had been part of the Cottonwood Creek culture for more than five decades, even back when it was called Chickasha Golf and Country Club.
"He was a caddy when he was young," Morris said. "He has been around and connected with this golf course for 52 years. He's just a fixture here."
Chad recalls the time his father became manager at Cottonwood Creek. He would spend time there personally making sure the course was in top shape.
"It's like this was his home," Chad said. "He knew what had to be done and he did it. Evidently, he did it right."
The tournament and the course saw a boost in popularity, something that has helped take the Washita Valley Classic this far. Morris said when Charlie died, she and her husband wondered if the tournament could even be done again.
"We don't want the legend, the Washita Valley, to stop," she said. "It has hit me like a Mack truck. He left us a trail to follow. Charlie was very organized. And we were there with him. But, Charlie was the main figure."
This year's tournament, which runs July 4-6 and includes prizes for Championship through E flights, is, as a result, like its own memorial, a way to honor the memory of Charlie by continuing one of Chickasha's most treasured traditions.
But in some ways, Morris said, it will be a sad year. Another tournament, one to specifically memorialize Charlie, is in the works, Chad said, to go along with the naming of the club house.
"I appreciate what they did with the club house," Chad said. "It makes me feel good that he was not just considered a beloved worker, but a beloved friend. It's above and beyond what they could do.
"My kids, they're a lot like I was, just flying around everywhere. But, when they get older, they'll see this and be able to understand who he was and what he meant to the people here."
There's still plenty of time to sign up for the Washita Valley Classic, Morris said. The entry fee is $150.