This weekend, Cowgirl Shootout will celebrate its 50th anniversary at Rifle Creek GC
by Gary Baines
Nondis Lowther can remember the first time she played in what is now known as the Cowgirl Shootout golf tournament in Rifle.
It was 1968, and Lowther was in her mid-20s and teaching school in Glenwood Springs. She competed in the second flight.
This weekend, 50 years later, Lowther, now in her mid-70s, will be back at Rifle Creek Golf Course on the Western Slope, playing in yet another Cowgirl Shootout. And why not? Over the last half-century, she’s competed in the tournament more often than not.
“I’ve probably played in more of them than anyone,” she said in a recent phone interview. “I lived in Broomfield with my late husband and I’d come over with people from Boulder and Broomfield. Then we moved over there; I only live a mile and a half from the course.”
The Cowgirl Shootout, which debuted June 22-23 in 1968 as the Ladies Western Slope Amateur at the then-nine hole Rifle Creek Course, will celebrate its 50th anniversary this weekend, when it’s played for the 51st consecutive year.
Local resident Bonnie Smeltzer won the championship flight that first year. Lowther claimed the second flight title. The entry fee for the 36-hole event was $10 that first summer, including a free practice round on the Friday preceding the event.
The entry fee now is up to $150 for the two-day tournament — including cart, two continental breakfasts and special awards buffet on Sunday — and it’s as popular as ever, with 120 women expected to play.
This year, given the tournament milestone, a 50th anniversary celebration reception will be held after Saturday’s round, complete with live music. At that event, a handful of people who were either involved that first year or during the first few years of the tournament will be honored, along with others who have played over the years. Some of the guests will come from as far away as Denver and Grand Junction.
Lowther estimates that she personally has competed in the Cowgirl Shootout 30 times. One of the most notable came in 1969.
“I came over from graduate school and I won the championship flight and I have a little trophy. That’s cool,” she said. “It’s a typical golf trophy and it has Second Annual Rifle Ladies Invitational 1969 on it.”
Lowther moved to Rifle — which sits along I-70 about 185 miles west of Denver — from Broomfield in 1996.
She became chairperson of the tournament for probably 11 years. Running the event for many years before that was Marge Oberholtzer, who who has since passed away.
“She was very creative and would come up with a different theme every year,” Lowther said of Oberholtzer. “She was also was the one that started using the eclectic format (where a player’s best score on each given hole over the two days is counted). She was very instrumental in the tournament.”
Coming up with different themes each year was dropped shortly after Oberholtzer stepped away from her tournament role. And early this century the event took on its current name.
In recent years, a committee has run the event. Candy Hammerich serves as the president of the Wednesday Ladies Club at Rifle Creek and has played a key role as a Cowgirl Shootout committee member.
In preparing for this anniversary, Lowther and Hammerich “went through the newspaper (archives) downtown in the library,” Lowther said. “We’ve been planning it all year. In January and February, we spent hours finding really fun articles about women that played and how they organized it. We’re going to have a video showing some of that, and we’re going to have an album.”
So what makes the Cowgirl Shootout special as it approaches its 50th anniversary?
“We draw women from all over the state — Denver, Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, Montrose and Delta; it’s not just local,” Lowther said. “The other special thing is everyone has fun because it’s an (individual) eclectic tournament. If you get an 8 on one hole the first day and you get a 5 the next day, you get to keep the 5. People like that format. And our course is a tough course. I remember one time a lady had a 13 on (hole) 13 and the next day she had a 10. The pro when he was setting up the course said, ‘That’s an improvement. She got a 10.'”
Rifle Creek has long since been expanded to an 18-hole layout, and as part of the 50th anniversary, the flags on all 18 greens during the tournament will feature a logo with “50th Cowgirl Shootout. 1968-2018” on them. Some replica flags will be presented to the key guests at the reception.
All in all, it figures to be a rip-roaring good time — as it always is — with a little extra celebrating to boot.