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U.S. Am and Amateur Public Links to Visit Michigan This Summer
By Jack Berry

Two of the best shows in golf, the United States Amateur and the United States Amateur Public Links championships, are coming to Michigan this year, the first time theyve been here in nearly half a century and the first time theyve been here in the same summer.

These are the best young players in the game, the future Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelsons and Justin Leonards. Occasionally a few 30-somethings will work their way through the early match play rounds but basically it is a young mans game and they come out firing like John Daly.

Figure these two fields, in the Amateur and the Public Links, like college football or basketball -- its like watching Miami, Florida, Nebraska, Michigan, Florida State in football or Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Kansas and Illinois in basketball, the best of the best. And thats what these two championships are. Theyre amateurs but theyre on their way to the professional tours.

It takes a handicap of 2.4 or better to qualify for the Amateur and 5,000-7,000 try it each year and it takes a handicap of 8.4 or better to try for the Public Links and 5,000-6,000 try that annually.

Ive been to every Public Links Championship since 1971 and it has changed tremendously, the same as the Amateur, said Pete Owens, longtime player in the Michigan Publinx Golf Association and for many years Michigan committeeman on the United States Golf Associations Amateur Public Links Committee.

You used to have working guys, schoolteachers, tradesmen, guys who paid to play public courses. Now theyre all college kids and the colleges have great courses and facilities and they are so good. From 250 yards out, theyre hitting irons to the greens. Theyre at 270 and theyre waiting for the green to clear. Theyre amazing, Owens said.

Best of all, the Amateur and the Public Links are on superb stages, Oakland Hills Country Club on West Maple Rd. in Bloomfield Township for the 102nd Amateur Championship and The Orchards, at 29 Mile and Campground Rds. in Macomb County for the 77th Amateur Public Links Championship and it wont break the bank to see them.

Tickets for the Amateur are $15 daily including parking, and a youngster (16 and under) gets in free with a paying adult. The Public Links is even better -- there is no admission charge.

Not only that, youll be able to get up close, walk right down the fairway at both the Amateur and the Public Links, unlike the professional tournaments. Only the greens and tees will be roped.

The Amateur will be played Aug. 19-25 at Oakland Hills and its the first time that championship, the oldest one in American golf, will be played in Michigan since Arnold Palmer won it in 1954 at the Country Club of Detroit.

The Public Links will be played July 15-20 at The Orchards and its that championships first visit here since R.H. Sikes defeated hometowner John Molenda at Rackham Golf Course in 1961.

Sikes went on to play the PGA Tour and Molenda had a distinguished career with victories in the Michigan Open and PGA championships, victories in Korea and Jamaica and numerous appearances in the National PGA Championship, U.S. Open and Buick Open while serving as professional at Knollwood Country Club.

And Palmer went on to a pretty decent career, too, after his 1-up victory over Robert Sweeny, including a runner-up finish to Bobby Nichols in the 1964 Carling World and playoff victory over Casper and Bob Stone in the 1981 Senior Open at Oakland Hills.

Thats what youll see at Oakland Hills and The Orchards, the future of golf. Check the roster of Amateur champions and its the Whos Who of the PGA Tour: Woods, with three in a row, 1994-96; Phil Mickelson, Billy Mayfair, Scott Verplank, Hal Sutton, Mark OMeara, John Cook, Justin Leonard, Matt Kuchar and David Gossett.

Bubba Dickerson, the reigning Amateur champion, was runner-up in the 2000 Public Links, losing on the 37th hole, and that just set him up for 2001 when he won the prestigious Western Amateur at Point OWoods Country Club in Benton Harbor, helped the University of Florida win the NCAA championship and then got out of more binds than Houdini in winning the 101st Amateur at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

The 75th Amateur Public Links Championship was a rare one -- not only did a non-collegian make it to the final, he was a 44-year-old with an impressive record. Dennis Green of Jackson, TN, was finalist in the 1989 Amateur and won the 1999 Mid-Amateur for players 25 and older.

Been there and done that, Green said the night before he met 19-year-old University of Arizona sophomore Chez Reavie in the Public Links final last summer. Reaching the final of the Amateur and winning the Mid-Amateur earned him spots in two Masters Tournaments and he wore a Masters-logoed shirt in his morning round against Reavie in sweltering heat at Pecan Valley GC in San Antonio.

The pressure is on the young kid, Green said. Well see if he can handle his nerves. I know I can handle mine.

Both the folks at Oakland Hills and Orchards developer Ron Dalby hope youth will be served again -- junior golfers, that is, giving youngsters an opportunity to see exceptional golf on exceptional courses without having to fight the big crowds that turn out for events like the Buick Open.

It also is a rare opportunity to see Oakland Hills North Course which seems like the poor relation when the club hosts major championships on the South Course. There will be a field of 312 for the Amateur and theyll all play one round on the North and the South to whittle the field to 64 for match play. The North Course has been used for parking when the club hosts major championships on the South but it is considerably more than a parking lot. For one thing, its hillier than the South.

The North has the same lineage -- original design by Donald Ross and opened in 1924, upgraded by Robert Trent Jones in 1961 and tweaked several times by Arthur Hills, the most recent in anticipation of the Ryder Cup (2004) and PGA Championship (2008). Hills redesigned the first hole and amphitheatered it to serve as site for opening and closing ceremonies for the Ryder Cup and to use as practice range for major championships.

And water, that quick trip to double bogeyland, is in play on three holes on the North Course whereas its a major factor only on the 16th hole on the South.

Oakland Hills South Course, which opened in 1918, is one of golfs most storied courses. It has hosted six U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships, two U.S. Senior Opens, a Western Open, a U.S. Womens Amateur and a Carling World Championship. The roster of champions includes Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Ralph Guldahl, Andy North, Bruce Crampton and Glenna Collett Vare.

Donald Ross designed it and after World War II, when steel shafts and better ball construction rendered the Ross fairway bunkers meaningless to the pros, Robert Trent Jones was hired to restore the Souths bite. He did it and then some. Ben Hogan won the 1951 Open with a 7-over-par 287.

Afterward Hogan said hed finally tamed that monster and upon passing Jones wife, said that if he had to design courses like that for a living hed find another job.

Jones returned for some tweaks for later championships including moving the seventh green and Hills lengthened some tees and enlarged the ninth and 12th greens to get more pin positions.

Oakland Hills basically is a muscular course with very fast, undulating greens, one that assesses a lot of bogeys but doesnt extract an overload of doubles and triples like courses with abundant water.

The Orchards also is a Jones course -- Robert T. Jones Jr., Trents son. Developer Dalby visited a number of courses before settling on Jones whose work is worldwide with courses in Europe, the Far East, the Caribbean and nearly half of Americas states.

The Orchards opened in 1993 and quickly became one of the premier public courses in southeast Michigan with a blend of prairie-like holes, wetlands and woods. Dalby hired longtime Oakland Hills golf course superintendent Ted Woehrle during the construction phase and hes been there since.

Ted had 23 years at Oakland Hills including preparing the course for six major championships and the Orchards is in superb condition. Weve planted 400 trees since the course opened, to go with the thousands that already were there.

I attended the last five Public Links championships and this is going to be a fabulous event, Dalby said.

The feeling is mutual across town at Oakland Hills.

We are treating this exactly as we do major championships, said Chairman Don McBride who has been involved in putting on two U.S. Opens and two Senior Opens at the club. Weve reworked the bunkers and installed triple row irrigation for the first time.

Hosting the Amateur wont be profitable for us -- we hope we break even -- but we feel its giving back to the community and giving the opportunity to see both of our courses and see wonderful, exciting golf, McBride said.

To that end, Oakland Hills ticket brochure says Youve never seen me hit a drive, youve never seen me sink a putt, youve never seen my love for the game but someday, youll tell people you saw me play.

The folks at both Oakland Hills and The Orchards hope youll be among that number.

March/April 2002 Issue Table of Content
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