Bob Goalby said he was happy to lend his celebrity to a fundraising effort that led to the installation of artificial turf at Belleville High School District 201’s two athletic stadiums.
It was humility and emotion, however, that overcame the former PGA golf champion when the home of Belleville West football and soccer was rededicated in his honor.
The District 201 Board of Education voted in August to recast the field he helped finance as Bob Goalby Field Presented by Commerce Bank. It was officially dedicated in a ceremony held prior to the Maroons’ Southwestern Conference football showdown with the Edwardsville Tigers.
Goalby, the 1968 PGA Masters Championship, was visibly moved as he addressed fans on the home-side grandstand.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have been inducted to five halls of fame around the United States, but none of them mean as much as having your hometown rename the football field that you played on,” said Goalby, a 1947 graduate of Belleville Township. “Let me just say, unless you can stand in my shoes right now, you can’t know how happy I am.”
Naming of the football fields was the next step in the “Turf for the Teams” project launched by the district in 2014. Goalby, a founding member of what is now called the PGA Champions Tour, hosted three private fundraisers at St. Clair Country Club and auctioned off some of his personal golf memorabilia.
The last of those events netted more than $35,000 and put the fundraising effort over its goal of $1.4 million for the two fields.
“I remember 71 years ago I played my last football game here against East St. Louis, and we won 6-0,” Goalby said prior to Friday’s ceremony. “I have great memories here. I never thought I’d get my name on it. I’m ecstatic about it.
“I’m a little humbled because I think there are people that have done more, but I’m certainly going to accept it with great pleasure, smile about it and say thank you.”
Goalby was a multisport standout at Belleville Township High School before there was an East and a West. He starred on coach E.G. Gunderson’s state championship baseball team his senior year, then moved on to play football at the University of Illinois.
“I got 11 varsity letters when I was here. If it had a ball, I played it,” he said.
In 1952, Goalby the golfer turned pro, earning his first PGA Tour win six years later. His crowning achievement was the ‘68 Masters Championship and the hand he played in founding what was then known as the Senior PGA Tour. He also played for the U.S. Ryder Cup team and retired with 11 tournament wins.
Through it all, he has continued to call Belleville home.
I've been very fortunate to have been inducted to five halls of fame around the United States, but none of them mean as much as having your hometown rename the football field that you played on.
“I was born here, I live here and I love it here,” Goalby said. “I’ve traveled all over the world and made a living playing golf, but this has been a great place to travel from. I had a great start here at this school, with great teachers and great coaches that gave me a good competitive spirit.”
A similar ceremony was held at Belleville East on Sept. 29, to rededicated the home of the Lancers in honor of Charles Woodford. Woodford is a two-time Purple Heart recipient as a B-17 tail gunner during World War II and the founding president of the Lancers’ sports boosters club.
In the last 50 years, Woodford has missed just three East football games and, at age 95, continues to volunteer his time speaking to students about his war experiences.