ALAMEDA -- Alameda's annual Commuters Golf Tournament has grown into one of the most prestigious amateur sporting events in Northern California and arguably one of the best in the nation.
Every year, players from various parts of Northern California flock to Alameda to take part in this event that transcends the ordinary. Greatly anticipated from the previous year, the tournament has its own traditions, starting with the committee members, those guys who lend their own brand of flair in their sharp-looking green jackets.
Except at this year's tournament -- the 86th annual that concluded April 28 -- not all those wearing the green jackets were guys.
At the end of last year's Commuters, the tournament committee granted honorary membership to Norma Arnerich. Long involved in Alameda golf, Arnerich dons the green jacket for the first time this year -- as the first female committee member at any level (the Commuters has three levels of committee membership: active members who actually prepare for, and run, the event; honorary life membership for those "retired" members with long histories of active committee service and dedication to the Commuters; and honorary membership, such as that bestowed upon Arnerich).
"This is for what she's done for Alameda golf for many, many years," said Dave Bratzler, general chairman for this year's tournament. "She has been very important -- and her husband (Lil Arnerich) has been very important -- in maintaining the 45-hole set-up of the course (the Chuck Corica Golf Complex, which consists of the Earl Fry and Jack Clark courses). They stood up when it looked like we might lose part of the course to developers when it wasn't making enough money."
Also donning a Commuters green jacket for the first time this year as a new honorary committee member is Berkeley resident Leonard Kirtley, thought to be the first African-American to serve in that capacity.
In 1978, she became the first woman appointed to serve on the Alameda Golf Commission. Receiving an honorary Commuters membership came as quite a surprise, however.
"Last year, after the awards ceremony, they announced that they had a special award," said Arnerich, who actually has served the Commuters as an awards presenter for some 30 years. "When they announced my name, I almost fell out of my chair."
Arnerich's dedication to golf and the quality of her service go back a long way.
She served eight years on the Alameda Golf Commission, three of them as chairwoman. During that time, she helped prepare a report to the city council that led to the making of the Mif Albright course. She also helped plant of trees to improve the Corica Complex and played a key role in creating the popular Alameda Junior Golf Program in 1991. Many of Alameda's top young players have come through that program.
Feted by Congress as Alameda's Woman of the Year in 1990, Arnerich also received the Pacific Women's Golf Association's Helen Lengfeld Award in 2010.
The Commuters dates to 1928, a year after the opening of the Alameda Golf Course, as the Corica Complex then was known. J. Charles Jordan won that first tournament.
"It's really quite an honor," Norma Arnerich added. "I really can't believe it. It's great that they're keeping the tradition alive. There's a lot of history (at the tournament)."