Amateurs tee up for a bit of competitive golf action

Tournament: Nearly 80 players are competing for the county championship that opens Saturday in Crownsville.

July 13, 2005|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

This may be just its third year, but the Anne Arundel County Amateur Golf Championship has become an event with a buzz about it.

About 80 players are expected for the two-day tournament, which opens Saturday at Eisenhower Golf Course in Crownsville and concludes Sunday at the North and East courses of Compass Pointe in Pasadena.

Winners from the first two years are in this year's field, and entrants will find themselves surveyed about whether a third day - making the event resemble a PGA Tour event - might be desirable next summer.

The tournament was founded in 2003 by Billy Casper Golf Inc., which manages the two courses owned by Anne Arundel County. The entire event was played that year at Eisenhower, but the newer Compass Pointe layout came into the picture a year ago.

This year's final will give players a 7,157-yard challenge to figure out. The tournament is open to all amateur golfers, whether they regularly play at the county's public courses or at more plentiful - and pricier - private clubs.

The tournament is believed to be Anne Arundel's first countywide competition, a little surprising given the area's size. Seventy-two golfers, most from the county, participated last year, and tournament officials are confident they'll match or exceed that number this weekend. A rain date would be set if the weather proves bad - some of last year's tournament was played in rain.

The tournament already has a name that transcends county boundaries.

Annapolis resident Peter Lewitus captured the first championship in 2003 but had to drop out of last year's championship round when he became ill. Montgomery County's Vance Welch, who took the crown last summer, said he's heard many golfers talking about this year's event in recent weeks.

And Brian Rhodes, general manager of Compass Pointe for Billy Casper Golf and the event's leader, said the tournament's popularity is growing.

"It's something that's kind of unique in our little area," he said.

That's because the winner is determined the same way the pros play: Lowest score for 36 holes wins. Period. No handicaps to be debated. And no match play, head-to-head competition used in many amateur competitions that pairs off golfers, with the player who wins the most holes prevailing.

The Anne Arundel Amateur does end with winners at a couple levels. After Day 1, players are split into "flights," with those posting the lowest scores battling for the championship on Day 2 and the others going for Flight One honors.

"Unless people really have a bad day, it groups the people of equal ability into flights," said Annapolis resident Tom Kirby, who was third and then fourth in the top flight the past two years. "You're getting somebody that's in your [ability range]. It's fair on that part."

In order to pair players of similar ability together on the first day, tournament officials made a small change this year, asking players for their average score - not handicap, a more subjective figure that some players, especially those who don't play frequently, don't bother to maintain.

Welch, like many entrants, likes another element of the tournament: "It's always a lot of fun to play good golf courses, but what's neat about it and unusual is it's at two separate golf courses."

Welch won last year with a two-round score of 145. He followed a 70 in the opening round at Eisenhower with a 75 at Compass Pointe.

Both Lewitus and Welch hope for a shot at this year's title. Welch played in the three-day Maryland Open at Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville that is scheduled to finish today before moving over to the Anne Arundel tournament.

"I'm playing well right now, but you never know," Welch said. "I like my chances, but I know the field is getting a little bit stronger."

Lewitus, 58, said he feels fine physically this year. He generally plays in senior tournaments, but the Anne Arundel tournament has been kind to him.

"You have kids today who are tough ... really focused and dedicated," Lewitus said. "But on any given day, a decent player can put up a good score."

Many play golf mainly for fun, of course, but Anne Arundel Amateur backers want the competition to remain challenging.

To that end, Rhodes said consideration is being given to turning the tournament into a three-day affair, and this year's competitors will be surveyed for their thoughts.

"It would be possibly two days at Compass Pointe and one at Eisenhower," Rhodes said. "There's a chance it might happen next year. ... Most golf is recreational, but this actually puts a competitive nature back in golf in the county. It's nice to play competitive every now and then."

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