Golfers preparing to tackle Waubeeka for MGA Amateur Public Links Championship
For the second time in a month, Williamstown will become the temporary home of Massachusetts golf when the Waubeeka Golf Links plays host to the Massachusetts Golf Association Amateur Public Links Championship on Sunday and Monday.
Last month, the Massachusetts Amateur Championship was played at Williams College's Taconic Golf Club. Now it's Waubeeka's turn. A field of 118 golfers will tee off starting at 8 a.m. on Sunday in a 36-hole tournament that celebrates the public course golfer. In order to enter, golfers must be bona fide public course players at a public MGA member club.
Just 2 1/2 years ago, the picturesque layout on Route 7 looked like it might become only a memory with former owner Jim Goff struggling to find a buyer to keep the course open. Now, under the ownership of Mike Deep who purchased the course in March 2014, Waubeeka is celebrating its 50th anniversary by hosting an MGA championship for the first time.
"We are honored that the MGA picked Waubeeka for the tournament," Deep said recently. "What a perfect way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our club."
The course had earned a reputation in the Berkshires for its pristine condition under the guidance of former superintendent Greg Tudor. According to Deep, new superintendent Brian Bartlett hasn't "skipped a beat" in taking over after Tudor left for Schuyler Meadows in Loudonville, N.Y.
Waubeeka member Jeff Bourdon, who qualified for the tournament in July at Westover Golf Course and will tee off at 9:20 a.m. on Sunday, seconds that endorsement of Bartlett's work.
"I used to think of Greg as a wizard in his job, but Brian has done a phenomenal job picking up where Greg left off," Bourdon said.
Bourdon is one of two Berkshire County players in this week's field. The other is Wahconah Country Club's Paul Briggs, who qualified for last year's Public Links Championship in a qualifier held at Waubeeka.
"I love the course," said Briggs. "It's a come-and-get-me if you can kind of course. There are no tricks."
It's no wonder he loves it. In addition to earning spots in two Public Links championships in qualifiers at Waubeeka he also owned the course record — a sizzling 63 — on the course prior to its back nine redesign.
"It was just one of those days," said Briggs of the round some 10 years ago in an open singles tournament. "I got it to 3- and-4-under and was just trying to keep it there but the putts kept going in."
With other duties including being involved with the planning of Wahconah's Little Brown Jug Tournament taking up much of his time, Briggs says its been a "roller coaster" year on the course.
"I don't have great expectations, but I'll enjoy having a beautiful day on a beautiful course and see what happens," he said.
One thing is certain about this year's tournament — the 2015 champion, Nick McLaughlin, will not repeat as the winner. He has turned pro since a remarkable 2015 season in which he won both the Mass. Amateur and Public Links titles.
The most recent champion in the field is Herbie Aikens, the 2014 champion. A member of Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth, Aikens also won the Mass. Mid-Amateur Championship in 2014 and has captured four Mass. Four-Ball Championships, the first three with Ryan Riley and the fourth this spring with Matt Parziale.
It will be Aikens' second trip west in a month. He will be looking to make amends for a final-hole bogey at Taconic that kept him from advancing to match play. Aikens almost holed out a chip shot for an eagle that would have gotten him in. He then 3-putted from about five feet to miss by two shots. His putter let him down in both rounds at Taconic
"It really shook me up," he said of the final hole meltdown. "It was me, it wasn't the greens. I had been putting poorly all summer."
Taconic member Curt Foehl caddied for Aikens at the Mass. Am., and will be on his bag again. Despite Aikens falling short at Taconic, Foehl was impressed with what he saw.
"I watched plenty of pros play and he hits it like a pro," the 55-year-old Foehl said. "He's one of the best ball strikers I have ever seen."
Aikens' putting woes continued after the Mass. Am, leading to a change after the first round of the prestigious Ouimet Memorial Tournament on Cape Cod.
"I talked with John [Pinehills head pro John Tuffin] after that round and he convinced me to go to left-hand low. I worked on it all that evening and used it the next day. I shot a 69 and made most of the putts I should have made."
With newfound confidence in his cross-handed grip, Aikens is more confident as he heads west again. It also doesn't hurt that he spent four days this week at Jack Nicklaus' Muirfield Village in Ohio and capped it off with an even-par final nine on the PGA Tour venue.
"That course is really tough and I putted very, very good," he said.
Aikens did get in a practice round at Waubeeka on his previous trip to the Berkshires and was impressed with what he saw.
"I like the course," he said. "For the most part you can go at it. It is very fair. There are some holes you can score on and some tough holes as well."
In his practice round Aikens said he hit drivers on most of the holes but expects to dial it back some in the tournament. He is playing a practice round today and will work on his strategy for attacking the course.
"On a hole like No. 18, I won't hit driver," he said of the short par-4 than runs parallel to Route 7. "There is no need to hit a driver and get yourself in that giant bunker 65 yards from the green."
Aikens pointed to a pair of par-3 holes -- the third and the 10th -- as being particularly challenging.
"On No. 3, if they put the pin on the right side you can't even aim at it and chips from the left are severely downhill," he said. "And No. 10 is 230 yards."
Foehl said from what he saw at Taconic, Aikens doesn't need to hit his driver too often.
"He hits his 2-iron 250 yards and pure," Foehl said.
Aikens will be paired with the 2013 champion, Ryan Clancy, in what should be a pairing to watch.
Past champions Andy Drohen (2012) and Bill Drohen (2004, 2006, 2007) are also in the field as are 2015 runner-up Matt Cowgill and third-place finisher Brian Sears.
While most would concede that Waubeeka is easier than Taconic, that doesn't mean the scores will be low. In the 2015 Public Links qualifier, Cody Booska and Jesse Morgan shared medalist honors with 1-over 72s. Waubeeka's greens, especially on the back nine, can be great equalizers.
"I could see someone getting a little into the red (under par), but there are some tough holes and the there are some severe slops on the greens, " Aikens said. "I try not to think about a score, but 1 or 2 under would be pretty good."
To contact Richard Lord: 413-281-2226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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