Cesarek giving way to Venier as LHT ‘ambassador’
The job might not have a specific title, but Bob Venier is honored to have it.
The lifelong Dixon resident and Lincoln Highway Tournament fixture is taking the reins from Sterling native Lou Cesarek, who's been working behind the scenes for years to keep the longest-standing tournament of its kind going strong.
Venier likes the sound of "ambassador" to describe his new gig.
"That's a good word," Venier said. "I wouldn't call it a thankless job. If you love the tournament like Lou and I do, you're gonna step up and do what it takes."
"I think you need somebody who is closer to their age," Cesarek, who turns 64 on Tuesday, said. "I've dedicated a lot of time to the tournament, and I'm not walking away from it."
Venier says the best thing Cesarek offered the tournament was consistency. Cesarek, who has won the individual title three times (1988, '90, '94) says it's been easy to measure just how effective he's been.
"The goal was to make sure that on Sunday night, after the tournament, that everybody was happy," Cesarek said. "That was the biggest part of the planning. Then it came down to execution."
Cesarek formed the event's Hall of Fame almost 10 years ago and, last summer, made the decision to honor Venier's late significant other, Susan Busser, who lost a long battle with cancer last March, with the event's first sportsmanship award.
Busser played the women's LHT 15 times, and Venier was overwhelmed during the annual Saturday banquet that punctuates each installment of the men's LHT.
"I was very honored for that, that he thought of that for her," Venier said.
It was decided over dinner this past December that Venier would slide into Cesarek's role.
"I was proud that I was even asked to do that," Venier said. "It's an honor to represent the many, many players who have competed in this event for the last 90 years, and to be able to carry on the tradition of what was started."
Venier doesn't exactly face an uphill battle, as the same 10 teams that played the event a year ago will again represent their courses this weekend at Sunset Golf Course in Mount Morris.
But Venier would rather see 12 teams, as was the case for many years. While the event will still feature the cream of the area's crop, Venier says fewer golfers and teams "takes some of the challenge off winning it."
"Bob's got one characteristic that you need: He's a very thorough thinker, and he'll think outside the box," Cesarek said. "He's been sitting back watching for all this time, and I know he's already got some plans."
Toward the top of that list? Conveying to young golfers how much of a source of pride the event has been for those who have played it for years.
"You've just got to talk about it amongst your club and get them to know how important it's been to us," Venier said. "To get across the nostalgia and what the event is truly all about: It's the golf, it's the camaraderie, and what I've always called it is the annual friendship."
Cesarek plans to work as a Mizuno sales representative through Christmas, then retire. He's been working in golf since the 70s, specifically in sales since 1982. A few years after breaking in with now-defunct Ram Golf Clubs, he reclaimed his amateur status.
He has no problem pitching the younger generations – whom Venier says it's paramount the tournament gets to play – on the beauty of the game.
"Ther reason we all play, is no one's ever shot a perfect game of golf," Cesarek said. "When you leave the golf course, you're always thinking about ways you can improve. This is the game of a lifetime, and no one is ever going to master this game or own it. They'll lease it for a short period of time, and then it will leave them.
"It's you against the golf course, every time you go out there, every day."
Much the way Cesarek credits his "sounding board" for success, Venier will begin with Emerald Hill pro C.J. Wade to help hatch ideas. They'll consider forming a board. But Venier refuses to get ahead of himself, saying this weekend truly marks the beginning of making the event stronger as its ambassador.
"It's more or less tweaking," Venier said. Cesarek agreed. "The changes we make are going to be determined this weekend, and over the next few years."
"No. 1 is kicking Brian Weidman out of it," Venier continued with a jab, although he later tabbed the SVM sports writer's hosting team as a favorite for the 91st LHT. "Home course gives a big advantage."
Cesarek, who lives in DeKalb, will be playing this weekend at Sunset for Kishwaukee, which nosed ahead of Timber Creek for all-time team titles with 30 last year.
"If I can keep qualifying, I'll keep playing," Cesarek said.
As for Venier, he'll be giving way to some of those up-and-comers he alluded to, after missing out on qualifying.
"I didn't exactly grind out the qualifier," Venier said. "I figured, if I qualify, I qualify. But more so, I wanted to concentrate on this next role for now…but I'll be back."
90th Lincoln Highway Tournament
When: 8 a.m. Saturday & Sunday (27 holes each day)
Where: Sunset Golf Course, Mount Morris
Teams: Emerald Hill (Sterling), Indian Oaks (Shabbona), Kishwaukee (DeKalb), Prairie Ridge (Morrison), PrairieView, Fairways (Rochelle), Rock River (Rock Falls), Shady Oaks (Amboy), Sunset (Mt. Morris), Timber Creek (Dixon)
Two-time defending team champ: Kishwaukee
Two-time defending individual champ: Mitchell Homb (Timber Creek)
Best-against-bogey format: Players awarded a plus for beating a hole's designated score, nothing for matching it, & a minus for exceeding it. At end of round, pluses and minuses are totaled for final score.