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Mountain State golf fever

AP Photo
Three-time State Amateur champion Tim Fisher returns to the tournament next month after serving three years worth of suspensions. Fisher doesn't have to participate in the Amateur qualifiers, which begin today and run into next week.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The trickle-down effect from the Greenbrier Classic seems to have hit amateur golf in West Virginia.

The set of six State Amateur qualifiers around the state that begin today have attracted just under 400 competitors, with four of the fields being sold out.

"That's huge. That's remarkable,'' said Ken Tackett, executive director of the West Virginia Golf Association.

"That's the most for the State Amateur in a long time, back when it was $60 [to enter, instead of the current $75]. It says a lot about golf in West Virginia.''

The State Amateur will again be contested at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs Aug. 5-8, with play alternating on the Old White TPC and Greenbrier courses.

The first qualifier comes today at Cacapon State Park in Berkeley Springs, with a field of 34 registered.

The others (with players entered) are Monday at Sleepy Hollow in Hurricane (81), Tuesday at Greenhills Country Club in Ravenswood (78), Wednesday at Lewisburg Elks (46), Friday at Grandview Golf Club in Beaver (78) and July 29 at Bridgeport Country Club (78).

A full field is 78 at most venues, but Sleepy Hollow can handle a few more.

Certainly, the PGA Greenbrier Classic, which just completed its fourth year, has spiked interest in the sport around the state. Perhaps the WVGA whittling the Amateur qualifiers from 36 holes to 18 holes three years ago is another reason.

"It compares well around the country, 400 for our State Amateur,'' Tackett said. "Nebraska has 185. The Carolinas - North and South - have 700 for two states, and they have 18,000 members.

"We have a lot of pride in what we do. We try to run our championships at a high level, and give our guys the white-glove treatment.''

Tackett said the number of golfers who make the grade at each qualifier "all comes down to math.''

Thirty players are exempt from qualifying for the State Amateur due to their top-15 finishes in last year's tournament or being one of the top 15 amateurs in the 2013 West Virginia Open. Thus, about 70 total spots are available in the qualifiers.

"It's usually about a one-in-four ratio,'' Tackett said of the number of golfers who advance from each qualifier, "but this year it's about a one-in-five ratio, and almost a one-in-six. It's really awesome we got that type of participation this year.''

This year's State Amateur marks the return of three-time champion Tim Fisher of Statts Mills, who served a pair of suspensions the last three years.

Fisher was suspended in August of 2010 by the U.S. Golf Association because he withdrew from the U.S. Public Links Championships in North Carolina in order to play in the West Virginia Open. The USGA said Fisher did not give proper notification. The WVGA also barred Fisher from its events for one year for the same reason.

When the first suspension was about to lift, the WVGA banned him again for a breach of its code of conduct in July of 2011. That suspension ends on Wednesday.

Fisher's three State Am titles came in 2005, '08 and '09. As a past champion, he doesn't have to qualify to get into this year's field.

"We're happy to get him back,'' Tackett said. "We hope his golf speaks for itself. It makes your State Amateur the best when you have the best players playing.''

Rain, rain go away

This summer's series of drenching rains has left Kanawha Valley golf courses doused and confused. They've had to battle to keep their layouts playable.

"It's been very bad for us,'' said Jimmy Harrison, the pro at Sleepy Hollow Golf Club in Hurricane. "A little bit of rain is good, obviously, but what's gone on the last three weeks . . . we've only been able to mow back our greens one time in three weeks, which is a really bad thing for us, having Bermuda fairways like we do.

"Heat and water are good for greens, but in the last month, it's been really bad. I'll bet we've had 15 inches of rain in the last month. It makes it tough for a golf course superintendent, that's for sure. It's not been a good thing for us.''

The National Weather Service in Charleston said a total of 7.12 inches of rain fell at Yeager Airport in June, followed by 2.92 inches so far in the first 10 days of July. That total of 10.04 inches exceeds the average by about 4.3 inches, and there have been reports of 12-plus inches in some localities.

"This much rain doesn't help anything,'' said Barry Evans, golf pro at Berry Hills Country Club in Charleston. "It's not getting a tenth of an inch. We're getting three-quarters of an inch or an inch and the ground gets saturated. Everybody thinks water is good, but in this amount, it's not.

"We have XGD drains for 12 of our greens, but the ones that don't we can have problems in. You have to be careful about algae when you get this amount of rain. We had to close one day [this summer] because it was really too wet, and you could damage the greens.''

Standing water has been a problem at Big Bend Golf Course in Tornado.

"On hole No. 4, we've had a lake here for about the past week over to the side of the rough,'' said Josh Wolfe, who works in the golf shop.

"It's well over the amount of rain we usually get, and it's very tough to get the course ready. You're not able to mow the rough and fairways and greens, and it leaves them long and slow. We've been cart path only for a week now.''

The forecast, however, finally calls for a break in the wet weather starting this weekend - and not a moment too soon for area courses.

"We're definitely looking forward to a dryout,'' Harrison said. "We have our member-guest [tournament] next weekend.''

"Play goes down when it's raining,'' Evans said, "and that's a concern, too, because revenue goes down and everything else. But for the most part, it hasn't affected us too much. We're in about as good a shape as you could be.''

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.

 


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