On Saturday, Aug. 11, the extended family and longtime friends of Fred, Charley, and Thorpe Richards gathered at Wawenock Golf Club in Walpole for a 10 a.m. tee time. Young and old, golf enthusiasts and novices alike, all had shown up to take part in the 35th annual Foot in the Bucket Golf Tournament.
Foot in the Bucket was started by Fred Richards’ son, Chris Richards, when his father passed away in 1984. Chris and his brother, also named Fred, have run the tournament in their dad’s memory ever since. Though the days haven’t always been sunny, the Richards family has been able to put on the unique tournament each year since it began.
“We played one year right after a hurricane, and on the fourth hole you pretty much had to go swimming, but we played,” Fred said.
The family’s dedication to the tradition can be seen in the distance they travel to participate. Fred joked that this year’s was an international tournament, as there were people playing who came all the way from Australia.
The name of the well-loved event is quite literal: competitors tee off with one foot in an All laundry detergent bucket. On odd years, the front foot goes in the bucket; on even years, the back foot.
Overheard at the tournament were many stories along the lines of, “I hit the ball and then instantly fell over one year.”
The impediment of the bucket makes the tournament tougher for serious golfers and adds an element of fun to make the less serious more comfortable. One relative said the Foot in the Bucket tournament is the only time she ever golfs, and she knows others whose experience has been the same.
The competitors are divided into teams. Only the best drive from each is counted, so the pressure is low. The event is about fun and getting family and friends together rather than technically sound play. As each player tees off, all those spectating give raucous cheers.
The bucket is more than just an important element for setting the tone of the tournament; it is a creative way to honor the memory of Fred Richards. Just before tee time, Chris gave a short speech to the sea of family and friends gathered on the course.
“This game was created in memory of my dad, who was not only an extraordinarily average golfer, but who was also the most obnoxious person ever on a golf course,” Chris said.
According to his sons, every time a golfer hit a ball awry when teeing off, Richards would say, “You’ve got your foot in the bucket!” No one really knew what the expression meant or where it came from, but after his passing, it became the seed for a commemoration of his life.
The earlier generation of Richards boys, Fred and his brothers, Charley and Thorpe, were all born in Newcastle to a father heavily involved and invested in the community. The three boys all learned to golf at Wawenock, where their families have been coming together for the past three decades.
This year’s Foot in the Bucket was special for two reasons: it celebrated what would have been the 100th birthday of Fred Richards, and a granite bench donated to the course in memory of the three brothers was unveiled. Thorpe Richards, the last living brother, passed away last year, at 97. The tournament is now played in honor of all three.
After the game, the group moves to someone’s house, where the festivities continue. There is plenty of food, and alcohol – which Fred said was “outlawed” during the tournament after the first two years because “things got too rowdy” – is permitted once again.
The event is a special way for family and friends to get together, have some laughs, and enjoy one another.
Rick Struse, son-in-law of Charley Richards’, said of his extended family at the course, “You get this whole mix of everybody coming, and going, and doing all sorts of different things. But they all love each other.”