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A dying wish to keep Hunt Valley golf tournament going runs deep in a family's roots

As he heads down the hill from the pro shop at Hunt Valley Golf Club, John Albert can just picture Jimmy Flattery giving a lesson. With a big straw hat on his head and some tree branches providing even more shade, Flattery, at least in Albert’s mind, is still teaching the game.

“He would give lessons for hours at a time for one person,” Albert recalled Friday. “It wasn’t like he gave a half-hour or hour lesson and said, ‘That’s it.’ He would be down there for so long with one person and keep working with him. That was his personality."

It doesn’t matter that Flattery, the longtime pro at Forest Park Golf Course who in retirement taught at Phoenix’s Hunt Valley for several years, died in 1992 at age 78. In Albert’s mind, and in the minds of many friends and relatives, Flattery’s spirit lives on.

Next week, the 82nd Jimmy Flattery Junior Golf Tournament will be held at Hunt Valley, its home since its founder and patriarch moved it there from Forest Park in the mid-1970s. Flattery, who came from a golfing family in Baltimore, started the event in 1936.

“He was outgoing, extremely congenial — he would reach out to anyone and loved to talk and tell stories,” Albert, Hunt Valley’s longtime golf pro, recalled Friday. “As far as the kids go, he was one of those guys that they all kind of gravitated toward.”

It was Flattery’s dying wish to keep the event going after he passed. Paul Flattery, who was born the year after his uncle held the inaugural junior tournament, hoped for the same when he was diagnosed last month with pancreatic cancer. He died three weeks later at age 81.

“It’s all about the kids,” said Ellen Flattery, Paul’s daughter. “It’s one thing that Jimmy had in his heart. He had the gift and the skills to be able to talk to people of any age, and get them enthusiastic about the game. So many children have been influenced by this tournament.”

Albert said that "it wasn’t hard at all” to fulfill Jimmy Flattery’s wish until about a decade ago, when ambitious junior golfers looked elsewhere, interested in more prestigious events.

“We’re seeing a drop-off in participation because there were many, many more junior opportunities for kids to play in other tournaments, where years ago, there wasn’t much to play in, so everybody from all over came to play in the Flattery,” Albert said.

Seven years ago, Albert joined forces with Todd Dorsey, the pro at Greystone Golf Course in White Hall. Dorsey, who had started the Junior Tour of Maryland, he added the Flattery to its schedule, which Albert said was key in keeping the tournament going.

“That gave us a lot of new life blood,” Albert said. “That exposure and their website got things really going, so it kind of regrouped.”

Eleven- and 12-year-olds will play nine holes Tuesday, while golfers ages 13 to 17 will play 18 the same day. Younger golfers will play an age-appropriate abridged version Saturday afternoon.

“The older kids love the competition because some pretty good juniors show up,” Albert said. “It’s a known tournament. What I’ve seen over the years being at Hunt Valley all these years, you have different generations that have played and are playing in the Flattery.”

Joe Plecker, the former Elkridge Club pro who earned Master Professional status from the PGA of America two years ago, played in the Flattery as a kid along with his older sister, Beth Plecker Sedlak, now a pro in Pennsylvania.

Plecker, whose 6-year-old son, Colt, played in the Flattery when he was 4, said that “the name represents one of the greatest guys in golf.” (Flattery’s older brother, John, who died at age 83 in 1987, is a member of the Middle Atlantic PGA Hall of Fame.)

“Every competitive golfer in this area grew up playing in the Jimmy Flattery,” Plecker said this week. “I was lucky enough to meet him when I was playing in it. It was just a premier junior golf event to play in. It’s just a classic. I’ll support it any way I can.”

Because her great-uncle did not have any children of his own, Ellen Flattery said that the junior golfers playing in the Flattery “were his children.”

“He watched many children grow up, like a Carol Mann,” she said, referring to the World Golf Hall of Fame member who learned the game in Baltimore and died in May, and “become a beautiful golfer.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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