For most, the green of a golf course is a place for skill, conversation and healthy competition. However, for the group of friends that play for “The Meridian Cup” every year, taking a trip to play a course is much more than that.
About 11 years ago, one group of friends and Austin neighbors decided to take an all-boys golfing trip to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama. The group of four worked their way across the collection of courses and concluded the trip with a Louisiana State University football game — little did they know that they were setting a tradition for many years to come.
“[We had] no idea it would evolve to what we have now,” Dirk Ballast, one of The Meridian Cup trip founders, says.
The group originally got its name from the Austin neighborhood most of them lived in: Meridian. Now, the annual, leisurely boys golfing trip is fully equipped with logoed apparel, balls, golf tees, ball markers, golf towels, beer koozies, coolers, a plaid Champion’s jacket, trophy (and trophy travel case) and even a videographer (who is part of the group).
One year, a member of the team started to document those memories, making a video for the rest of the team to watch for fun. Even with a collection of some quick, phone-shot videos and photos, the initial video was about 11 minutes long.
“It’s pretty fun. The videos are kind of just — you know, imagine 16 guys over five days, playing a lot of golf and drinking a lot,” Greg Guest, one of the annual trip members, says. “It’s Comedy Central. I mean, it’s hilarious.”
With such fond (and funny) memories caught on camera, it was only appropriate to take things to the next level: more gear, more footage and more amusement.
“Now we have multiple GoPros in the group, and last year, a drone — we are approaching 40 [minute] videos with a ton of stuff left out,” Ballast says.
Every year, it’s tradition on the first night of each trip to watch the video of the year prior. From post-putting interviews to strategic filming (GoPros even strapped onto golf carts), the films are the group’s own, just-for-fun version of The Masters.
“It’s become quite the production,” Guest says. And with taped-up microphones, the group takes getting the footage very seriously.
While the trip is packed with loads of fun, Guest says this certainly does not take away from the sport. As they are all competitive players and golf enthusiasts, he says the group has a very sophisticated scoring system, which they use to find out who will win The Meridian Cup, plaque and tartan Champion’s jacket.
For many of the trips, Guest says that they will all stay in the same house. And what makes the trip so memorable are those that go on it, Guest says.
“I think it’s just really the camaraderie or the guys that you’re with and the stories you tell,” he says.
Over time, as those in the group experience different life events, Guest says it’s a nice opportunity to sit down with one another to truly catch up and understand what each other is going through over the years. Each of them will base planning their years around the trip, he adds.
“Everyone who goes really enjoys playing a lot of golf, but more importantly, I think it is the group guys that go. It just makes the whole trip something no one wants to miss out on,” Ballast says.
In 2020, the group’s 10-year anniversary trip was planned to be held in Scotland, where golf had originally begun in the 1400s, but the trip was canceled due to COVID-19. Throughout the years, The Meridian gang has ventured to Palm Desert, Hilton Head, Atlanta, Scottsdale and more.
“It is nice to play courses that you have seen on TV. Usually, conditions are a little different and we are not playing as far back as they do,” Ballast says. “It is still an awesome experience.”
With the popularity of the trip, friends and others in the neighborhood have expressed interest in going, however, the group usually tries to stay capped at 16 people, Ballast says.
“We kept thinking that over the years that people would drop out,” Guest says. “[Now], we have a waiting list of people to try to get into the trip, which is kind of funny.”
Typically, one to two spots open up annually as some members back out due to life events, Ballast says, but many of the core group members have not missed a year.
The attendee’s ages are across the board, and usually range from the mid-30’s all the way to 68, Guest says.
“It’s a great group of guys and we go to some really cool places — between the houses and courses we play, it is really something you don’t want to opt-out on and give up your spot, Ballast says.
While the group has discussed upping the number of participants to 20 or so, Ballast says that booking houses to accommodate that higher group size, as well as booking tee times, begins to get extremely difficult.
While golf is the main activity of the guys’ trip, the group will also partake in poker, blackjack, cornhole, hanging out by a pool to watch football and more golf, Ballast says.
“It’s a nonstop, five days of competition,” Guest says.
The excitement for the trip builds all year and, when asked to describe what it’s like on that first day of each trip, Guest says they’re all like kids on Christmas Day.
While the sport of golf is ultimately what brings the group together, Ballast says that the fitness aspect of the trip may be slightly offset by their daily activities.
“I guess all the golf and walking counts,” he jokes.
Even though the pandemic has caused a shift in planning, Guest says they will absolutely continue hosting The Meridian Cup and are already planning the next one when it is safe to do so.
“We’ve literally got enough placards on there that our kids will take this over one day and they’ll be doing it,” Guest says.