Pine to Palm tourney starts Monday
There's a new title to be sought after during the 77th Pine to Palm Golf Tournament, with the newly formed Mid-Amateur Division kicking off its inaugural year at the Detroit Country Club Aug. 10-16.
The Mid-Amateur Division will join the traditional Championship Flight and Senior Division for this year's Pine to Palm.
It's been a notion which has been kicked around by the Pine to Palm committee for the last several years, and this year's tournament seemed to be a perfect fit to introduce it to golfers who are aged between 40-55 years old.
Competitively speaking, the tournament has attracted a young and highly talented type of golfer, ranging from top high school players to Division I college golfers between the ages of 17-24 years old.
There has been a solid showing by the more veteran golfers between the ages of 35-45, but it's been getting tougher each year due to the influx of youth in the tournament's Championship play.
"The big thing we always look at is to cater to all the golfers," said Pine to Palm chairman Bob Gorden. "We noticed that some golfers who are around 40 stop playing the tournament until they turn 55, when they can play in the Senior's Division.
"It's around that age (40-55) that golfers can't play everyday because of their job, unlike the younger guys who can go out and practice everyday. So it's hard to keep up with the younger golfers."
That reason -- along with a slumping economy and the fact that the Pine to Palm lands on the same dates as the PGA Championship, which is being held at Hazeltine Golf Course in Chaska -- led them to decide it was a perfect time to try and boost the numbers for the tournament.
"People have kept bringing up (the Mid-Am) and we decided it was time to try it," Gorden said. "With how the economy is and the PGA Championship being played the same week, we wanted to try and bring some people back."
With the attraction of playing in a Mid-Am division, there could be some higher profile names who qualify to play in it -- thus making it more competitive tournament.
"Golfers who are around the age of 40 can play against the younger ones through 18 holes, but when it gets up to 36 holes later in the week, that becomes the issue," said Detroit Country Club golf pro Mark Holm. "It's an issue of balance of age and stamina. Now with the Mid-Am, they have a competitive place to play until the Senior's Division.
"I believe there will be qualifying scores under par and some past champions and runners-up will be able to play in it. It will be a very tough division."
But with the addition of the new Mid-Am, something needed to go.
That something ended up being one of the name flights -- Melissa -- from Championship Flight play.
Three name flights will stay, which are the ones filled by the golfers who didn't qualify for the field of 64 match play in Championship play.
Instead of having 128 players in Championship and name flight bracket play, there will now be 112 with the subtraction of the Melissa Flight.
The Mid-Am Division will have a two-day qualifier Monday and Tuesday to determine the 16-man bracket for match play, which starts Thursday.
There will also be consolation play for the Mid-Am players who qualify for the field of 16, but not name flight play.
So, in essence, if a golfer doesn't qualify to play in the field of 16, their week is done.
"The players are happy about it," Holm said. "But with only 16 making it, they know they will have to play well in the two qualifying rounds. I believe it will grow and there will need to be some tweaking as we go along.
"It's a risky challenge this year, because if you miss the cut, there is no consolation. But now there is more flexibility for players, because Seniors can also play down in the Mid-Am, as well."
Since it's in the first year of existence, people are still a bit wary of how it will play out, Gorden said.
"There are some golfers who are still going to play in Championship because there are only 16 spots for match play in the Mid-Am," Gorden said. "They will wait and see if it's going to be a good field or not this year. Personally, I think it's going to be a good field."
Championship Flight numbers are lagging yet as of late July, partly due to the economy and the PGA Championship.
"We are about 10-15 down from last year at this point of the month," Gorden said. "I still think we'll get just over 400 golfers, though."
Defending champion Ben Freeman of Fargo has had solid college and summer seasons and will look to be one of the favorites entering the 2009 Pine to Palm.
But Gorden has seen a good injection of new players signing up, as well.
"We're still seeing people sign up from all over the country," he added.
One minor change in the tournament will be the efficiency of forming the pairings Wednesday evening for match play, which starts Thursday, Aug. 13.
"We will have a computer for each of the divisions and we won't have any Seniors qualifying Wednesday afternoon," Gorden added. "All the Seniors will have to play their qualifying round by Wednesday morning, so we can focus on the Championship pairings Wednesday evening after the playoff is played."
In all, there will be 20 numbered flights, the Mid-Am, Championship and Senior Division played -- 33 different divisions in total.
Joe Sauer will also be back to defend his championship in the always-tough Senior's Division.
The Pine to Palm easily is the busiest tournament on the Resorter's circuit, which includes Bemidji's Birchmont (200-250 golfers) and Alexandria's Resorters (125-150).
There will be between 400-450 golfers competing in the 33 different Pine to Palm divisions, starting Aug. 10.
DCC course in 'pristine' condition
Even after vandals basically destroyed a couple of greens during last year's tournament by spraying Roundup on them, that didn't stop the DCC grounds crew from making this year's course the best it has been in years.
"I've never seen the course in better shape from tee to green," Holm said.
Darwin Lindsey, the DCC Grounds Superintendent, said the course has been in great shape all summer.
"The cooler weather has helped, and I have the perfect crew because they care about what they're doing," Lindsey said. "They go above and beyond what I ask."
All 18 greens are in good shape, and Lindsey said that vandalism throughout the summer has been rare.
"Last year, we had vandalism all summer long, but it's been down a lot this year," Lindsey said. "And it's sounding like the weather is going to be nice the week leading up to the Pine to Palm, so the course will be more than ready to go."