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AREA — When the first annual Sunflower Open was held at Townsend Ridge Country Club in memory of Patricia A. Carpenter eight years ago, it sold out in advance.

The loss was a fresh wound, and the golf tournament, which benefits melanoma research, helped the Carpenter family begin to heal.

Diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer after the biopsy of a mole on her arm, the 56-year old kept her sense of humor while bravely battling the disease, family members said.

She died at Mass General Hospital in March 1999, surrounded by her family. She left her husband, longtime local builder George Carpenter; two sons, Scott, of Ashby, and Brian, of Lunenburg; three daughters, Jacqueline Butler and Kristin Lynch, of Ayer, and Sheryl Belley, of Groton; and several grandchildren.

The family, along with close family friend Keith Madden, founded the tournament to remember Patricia and help fund research to find a cure for melanoma. Today, the search for a cure continues, and the tournament is “our way of continuing” to battle the disease, according to the event flyer, which provides history and sign-up details. The tournament and related donations have raised more than $120,000 for the cause to date.

Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the event, and it may be the last as organizers struggle to keep it going.

The ninth annual Sunflower Open will be held June 21 at Townsend Ridge Country Club. Registration starts at 7:30 a.m., including coffee, juice and donuts. The “shotgun start” is at 8:30 a.m., with “best ball scramble” format.

The golf fee per person is $125. The fee includes the driving range, golf cart and lunch. Those who want to come for lunch only at 1:30 p.m. may do so for $30.

From the fee, $75 goes to the Melanoma Program at Tufts-New England Medical Center Cancer Center. The balance pays for the course rental and related costs. All the money from tee and green signs, at $75 each, and 100 percent of all tax-deductible donations go to the fund.

“If you send $500 it all goes to the fund,” Carpenter said.

In addition to a day of outdoor fun with family and friends, there are chances to win great prizes. The prizes include a set of golf clubs, patio furniture and an array of gift certificates. The top prize for the golfer who gets a certain hole in one is a two-year lease on a new Ford Edge SUV donated by Gervais Ford. Mike Gervais said the lease value is about $10,000.

Updating family news over the last decade, Scott said his father has remarried, and a couple of grandchildren are old enough now to participate in the event, including Brian Carpenter, 13, and Benjamin Butler, 11. But overall, participation is down.

Numbers were no problem at first. Friends and family flocked to Townsend Ridge Country Club to join in and share memories of Patricia.

“People said she was the definition of fun,” said Scott, recalling a phrase from his mother’s eulogy. “She was into everything.”

Patricia was a teacher at Nashoba Valley Technical High School and an office manager for the construction firm her husband started in 1984. Scott said he’s worked with his father “since day one.”

Family ties stretch from here to Billerica, where his parents are from.

“Her name was Lavery,” he said.

Many of them came to the tournament the first year and some still attend, but it may not be enough.

Scott and Madden organize the tournament each year, aided by Scott’s wife, Terri, and other family members, most of whom play in the tournament. He said his father’s an avid golfer, but the rest aren’t so regular.

It’s a big job, said Scott, and with participation steady but not stellar, next year’s event may be the last.

“We need golfers,” he said.

Another problem is sponsorship. These days, many charitable events vie for sponsorship in tough economic times, Scott said. He expressed gratitude to those sponsors who have stayed the course including Bemis in Shirley and Gervais Ford and Grafax in Ayer.

The list of other businesses who’ve helped over the years includes the Boston Red Sox, Longhorn Steakhouse in Leominster, Hunter Appliance in Littleton, P.N. Laggis clothing store in Ayer and Filho’s Cucina in Groton to name a few.

Once, the corporate sponsorship pool was deeper, but Scott said the flow has dried up considerably. Players whose companies once sponsored the event now pay entrance fees themselves, he said. He recalled early events when players couldn’t sign up fast enough and business backing was strong.

For $500, corporate sponsors get their names on a tournament T-shirt and signs at registration and dining areas. To have a sponsor’s name on signs at tees and greens costs $150.

For information call Scott at (978) 386-5829 or Madden at (508) 478-0423. The Web site for Tufts-New England Medical Center also lists the event on its calendar.

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