The Taconic Golf Club's picturesque and challenging course has earned plenty of acclaim on a national level, but hidden in the northwest corner of Massachusetts, the Williams College gem doesn't often garner statewide attention.
That will change on Monday when the state's top amateur golfers tee off in the 108th Massachusetts Amateur Championship on a par-71 layout that has been rated as the No. 2 college course in the United States by Golfweek and the top public course in Massachusetts by Golf Magazine.
Both Taconic head professional Josh Hillman and the Massachusetts Golf Association's Tom Berkel, who will share official-in-charge duties with Marty Salvadore, say course superintendent Jim Easton and his staff have the course in prime tournament condition.
"The course condition is just phenomenal," Hillman said. "I think its the best that I have ever seen it. It's July, so it will be firm and fast."
"We were up there a week-and-a-half ago and the golf course is just excellent," agreed Berkel. "The greens are really sharp and rolling true."
With putting surfaces that feature some serious slopes, speeds need to be monitored closely in an effort to make them fair and consistent during a long week that is likely to feature changing conditions. Hillman said Easton is looking to have the greens rolling at 10 1/2 or 11 on the Stimpmeter. That's fast, but certainly not Augusta National fast.
"The MGA (Massachusetts Golf Association) doesn't get too hung up on the speed reading, we leave that up to the superintendent," said Berkel. "Everyone will err on the side of caution so that the greens aren't too speedy."
The tournament will begin with 36 holes of medal-play qualifying on Monday and Tuesday with the 144-player field being cut to 32 players for match play. It's a five-day marathon — the winner could need to play as many as 36 holes three days in a row to win the state's most prestigious amateur tournament.
It's hard to say what score it will take to reach the final 32, but the recent Northeast New York PGA Section Stroke Play Championship perhaps provides a hint. The winner, New York pro Scott Berliner, who has been on a spectacular run over the past few years, won with a 1-over 143 total over 36 holes. There was only one sub-par round by anyone, John Neet's 68, and only two even-par rounds, one of those by Berliner.
In recent Mass. Amateurs, the cut line has hovered around at around 6-over and Taconic's challenges, especially around and on the demanding greens, certainly seem in line with those of recent Mass. Am. venues.
Picking a likely winner is much more difficult to predict than the qualifying scores. The demands of match play and a field filled with the state's top golfers make it like picking the right numbers in a lottery. There's only one certainty — there will be a new champion. Nick McLaughlin, the 2015 winner, has turned pro so he isn't eligible to compete.
The most recent winner in the field is 2014 champion John Kelly, who has a good history in Berkshire County. Just a couple of weeks ago, he paired with Connecticut golfer Billy McDonald to win the Pewter Cup at Berkshire Hills Country Club. They also won the event in 2014.
In addition, they qualified last fall at Great Barrington's Wyantenuck Country Club for May's U.S. Golf Association Four-Ball Championship. They lost in a playoff to just miss reaching the 32-player match-play field at fame Winged Foot in New York.
Three semifinalists from last year's tournament at Oak Hill Country Club will look to take that next step — Patrick Frodigh, who lost to McLaughlin in the final, and semifinal losers Peter French and Matthew Naumec. Reigning MGA champions in the field include Jimmy Hervol (Junior Amateur), Don Reycroft (Senior Amateur) and Matt Parziale (Mid-Amateur).
Past champions include nine-time MGA Player of the Year Frank Vana Jr. (2004, 2005), John Hadges (2006, 2008) and Ryan Riley, who won the last time the tournament was held in the Berkshires at Wyantenuck in 2011. He defeated Vana 4 and 3 in the final.
Only two Berkshire County golfers — Trevor Gliwski (1992) and three-time champion Jim Salinetti (1997, 1999, 2000) — have captured the tournament. Three golfers with county ties — Taconic and Forest Park Country Club member Chad Alibozek, Greenock Country Club's Jake Mahoney and Taylor Bellemare, who currently plays out of Waubeeka Golf Links — will tee it up Monday.
The 21-year-old Alibozek, who is a member of the Salem State golf team, got in as an alternate after narrowly missing out in a qualifier at the Country Club of Pittsfield. He is coming off strong performances in the CC of Pittsfield Men's Invitational and Pewter Cup.
"It's great to see him in the mix," Hillman said. "He's super talented and if his irons are on, he has a good chance to do well."
Mahoney, 25, who has lived in the county for only a year, qualified for the Mass. Open in 2013 but will be making his Mass. Am. debut after finishing second with a 1-over 72 in the CC of Pittsfield qualifier.
Bellemare, 24, who also qualfied at the CC of Pittsfield, is from Hoosick Falls, N.Y., but his grandfather was a longtime member at Taconic.
"I have played there more than 30 times," said Bellemare, who will also be playing in his first Mass. Am. "The greens are tough when they are fast and there are some really good golf holes."
While picking a winner is all but impossible, you can bet that there will be plenty of unpredictable ups-and-downs on a course that sets up perfectly for match-play excitement. The greens are a constant challenge and the final four holes are all very demanding on a course that features a back nine that is 400-plus yards longer than the front.
"The fact that it is a big course with a lot of tee options and possible pin placements, they have a good chance to give us a lot of different looks," said Vana, who earned the first of his two Mass. Amateur titles the last time event was played at Taconic in 2004. "It should be interesting."
Berkel was an official the last time the county hosted the Amateur at Wyantenuck in 2011. He also happens to be a member at the Great Barrington club, so he knows what it is like to be a member of the host club.
"In hindsight, I would view it as an unqualified success," Berkel said of 2011. "It was inspiring to see the club at full-tilt those first two days with 144 players on the course. The place was really hopping and it was great to see the fantastic job the staff did."
He anticipates a similar week at Taconic.
"I expect nothing less from Taconic," he said. "The staff there appears ready to go and I expect them to experience a similar enjoyment at having there club at full-tilt and challenged by the state's best golfers."
He also has another fond memory from that special week. Make that a one-in-17 million memory.
Berkel and fellow Wyantenuck member John Hull III, who were playing a friendly match with several others members, aced the 175-yard eighth hole back-to-back — at 17 million-to-one odds according to Golf Digest — the day after Riley won the Mass. Am title.
Perhaps he can get a tee time for Saturday from this year's host club!
While the state's best golfers will be in Williamstown on Monday, the area's top seniors will be battling for top honors in the Allied Senior Championship at Wahconah Country Club. Play will begin with a 9 a.m. shotgun start.
Massachusetts Amateur tee times
MONDAY, FIRST ROUND
FRONT NINE, MORNING
7:30 a.m.: Eric Yarrows, Jake Mahoney, James Elliott; 7:40: Joe Brosseau, Connor Henderson, Matthew Walsh; 7:50: Cody Booska, Sam Reimer, Thomas Henderson.
8:00: Matt Perry, Brandon Hagopian, Christopher Tarallo; 8:10: Chris Healy, David Fontaine Jr., Joshua Farmer; 8:20: Ronald Laverdiere, Brian Fitzgerald, Todd Ezold; 8:30: Zach Garbacik, George Bell III, Jake Kramer; 8:40: Davis Chatfield, Max Ferrari, Timothy Umphrey; 8:50: Jake Shuman, Patrick Frodigh, Peter French.
9:00: Lane Bohman, John Kelly, Nicholas Caruso; 9:10: Charlie May, Nick Drago, Matt Hills; 9:20: Aaron Siekierski, Corey Turner, Jeff Bastien.
FRONT NINE, AFTERNOON
Noon: Owen Elliott, Brendan Hunter, Brian Sears; 12:10 p.m.: Adam Trivilino, Marc Francis, Kyle Kelly; 12:20: John Hadges, Don Reycroft, John McNeill; 12:30: Benjamin Spitz, Dan White, Frank Vana, Jr.; 12:40: Jack Kearney, Joe Dimarzio, Michael Arter; 12:50: Rob McMenimon, Erik Swenson, Kurt Flionis.
1:00: Jordan Burke, Matthew Leger, Victor Galvani; 1:10: Chris Dunham, Bill Jenks; 1:20: Jack O'Donnell; Jake Ratti, Dan Neidermire; 1:30: Andrew Boyle, Andrew Warfield, Paul Chmura; 1:40: Kole Kelly, Alex Jamieson, Mark Turner; 1:50: Thomas Roberts, Christopher Bornhorst, Jacob Winn.
BACK NINE, MORNING
7:30 a.m.: Stephen Hunt, Troy Miller, Taylor Bellemare; 7:40: Matt Miller, Derek Yvon, Tim Tunstall; 7:50: Cody Miller; Zach Schuster, Athan Goulos.
8:00: Nick Rodriguez, Andrew Howard, Matt Cowgill; 8:10: Matt Parziale, Taylor Kay-Green, Christopher Gentle; 8:20: Matthew Naumec, Ben Balter, Jimmy Hervol; 8:30: Guy Antonacci, Herbie Aikens, Billy Walthouse; 8:40: Doug Clapp, Kip Webber, Alex Jeffers; 8:50: Zach Camarra, Benjamin Kelly, Tommy Parker.
9:00: Ryan Riley, Bunt Whitelaw III, Dan Cappucci; 9:10: Mike Michel, DJ Hynes, Mike Walker; 9:20: Brett Krekorian, Steven DiLisio, John Lazor.
BACK NINE, AFTERNOON
Noon: Eric Daniel, Marc Lowell, Damon Lusk; 12:10 p.m.: Jackson Lang, Lucas Hicks, Brendan Ridge; 12:20: David Rogers, Jared Silva, Thomas Cook; 12:30: Cy Kilgore, Robert Blackmar, Paul Mitchell; 12:40: Shuvam Bhaumik, Dan Koerner; 12:50: Gregory Poor, Jim Forsgard, James Tyer.
1:00: Joey Ciolino, Samuel Procter, Kevin Gately; 1:10: Nick Schena, Jared Pane, Charles Doar; 1:20: John Gilmartin, Stephen Visco, Marty McDonald; 1:30: Mac Cavanaugh, Patrick O'Leary; 1:40: Nathan Ingram, Will Grady, Benedict Hoeller; 1:50: Gregory Placzek, John Hugo, Chad Alibozek.
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