Sunday May 19, 2013

There is guaranteed to be a course record set on Friday in the Stockbridge Classic at Stockbridge Golf Club.

The mark will be set on the club's new short course that has been created and will be used in competition for the first time in the tournament's newly created Super Senior Division (ages 65 and up).

The U.S. Golf Association has been pushing a "Play it Forward" initiative for several years in an effort to make the game more fun for those who can't pound 300-yard drives. It's also a way to speed up play, which is never a bad idea.

Both Stockbridge and the Country Club of Pittsfield have embraced the concept and are building new tees they expect to be especially popular with senior golfers and families. So far, the reaction at Stockbridge has been positive.

"We opened them earlier this week and they have been well-received," said Stockbridge head professional Steve Mazzariello. "The members are just loving them. I haven't heard a negative comment yet."

The layout will play at roughly 4,500 yards and the winner on Friday will hold the "official " course record. So far, nine new tees have been built. The other nine will be built for next season. On the holes without new tee boxes, the fairway grass will be mowed down where the tee markers will be placed.

One reason the Classic has been targeted for the debut is the growing size of the senior field in the one-day medal-play event.

"When this tournament first started, we had maybe a dozen seniors in the field," Mazzariello said. "Last year, about half the players were seniors."

Fields in the annual tournament, one of the few medal-play singles events in the Berkshires, have been growing in size. Last year, there were about 72 players. This year, there will be more than 80.

"A few of the foursomes that usually come up every year can't make it, but we are still going to have a bigger field than last year," Mazzariello said. "It's become popular for those who like medal-play events."

The home club will be well-represented with many time club champion Randy Driscoll, senior standout Jim Finnerty and Randy Hawthorne leading the way.

Mazzariello confirmed that, yes, the winner will have the new course record.

"Maybe we'll have Jim [Finnerty] play in that division," he joked. "We're going to have fun with this."

While Finnerty would likely set a nice target for future short-course players, he's not quite at Super Senior age and is no doubt looking to outgun some of the younger members of the field from further back this time around.

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As usual, the CC of Pittsfield proved during Thursday's Massachusetts Open qualifier that it can hold its own against a strong field despite its relatively short length of 6,395 yards. The average score was above 78 with only medalist Billy Downes (3-under 62) at par or better.

"It's definitely not an easy course," said John Stoltz of Middletown, N.Y. "The elevations changes and tricky greens make it difficult to post a quality score, especially when it is windy like it was [Thursday.]

Stoltz, 29, who played in his first PGA Tour event in 2012 in Puerto Rico and is annually one of the best players in the New York Metropolitan PGA Section, tied for second with a 1-over 72 and also qualified at the CC of Pittsfield in 2010.

Sean Gaudette, the only amateur to advance, played the course for the first time the day before the tournament and is glad he did. After all, there are those elevation changes along with blind shots, narrow fairways and well-bunkered greens that are relatively small.

"It definitely helped [to play the course]," said Gaudette, who plays on the golf team at Yale University where he plays a course that is also famous for blind shots and hilly terrain. "A lot of the tee shots are tricky where you need to hit less than driver."

New Jersey golfer Paul Park, who tied with Stoltz with a 72, also was happy he played a practice round.

"It's pretty tricky, especially the greens, which have a lot of undulations," said Park, who shot a 67 earlier in the week in a U.S. Open local qualifier in New Jersey to advance to sectionals. "I'm a long hitter, so I hit a lot of irons and a couple of 3-woods off the tee. I only hit driver on the par 5s."

In this era of 7,500-yard courses, it's good to see that an old-school courses like CC of Pittsfield can still hold their own in the era of big bombers.

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Thursday's event marked a return to competitive golf for Wyantenuck Country Club amateur Davis Mullany. The Dartmouth College graduate struggled to an 82, but that was understandable. After all, had played in only one tournament -- last summer's club championship -- since he started working on a post-baccalaureate degree at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2011. The degree earned, it's now back to golf for the summer.

Before heading to school, Mullany had great summer in 2011, advancing to the round of 16 in the Massachusetts Amateur Championship at his home club and qualifying for the U.S. Amateur.

The school work complete, he's back on the golf course.

"This was just my third round," Mullany said. "I thought I hit the ball OK, but I had a few big numbers and my short game wasn't there. I need to work on my chipping and putting."

Mullany will be playing in the Mass Am qualifier being played at his home club on June 3 and expects to compete in a few local four-ball events and perhaps a U.S. Amateur qualifier over the summer.

On the education front, he said applying to dental schools is the next step.

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Speaking of the Mass. Amateur qualifier at Wyantenuck, the starting times have been posted and it looks like having the Amateur in Western Mass. (Longmeadow Country Club in July) has helped inspire the top local players to give it a shot.

Sixteen local golfers, including virtually all of the Berkshires' best amateurs, are entered in the field.

To contact Richard Lord:
rlord@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6236