Monday, May 08, 2006

Niagara Men's Tour 2006: First Event in the Books

Bridgewater Country Club
Fort Erie, Ontario


Course Architect: Stanley Thompson
Established: 1927
Personal Rounds Played: 4
Low Score: 75

My first official tournament of 2006 was the Niagara Men's Tour opener at Bridgewater Country Club in Fort Erie, right on the US/Canada border near Buffalo.

I had the opportunity to play a practice round last week with fellow St. Catharines members Gerry and Harris, both members of the tour, and I was extremely impressed with the course.

There's really nothing to write home about from a topography standpoint, as the land is really flat out there. However, Thompson (I'm not sure how much of his original work remains but for arguments sake, we'll assume most of it is his) uses a lot of visual deception from the tee to confuse the player and the green complexes are quite something as well (false fronts, heavy sloping, some crowned surfaces).

It's a very pleasant golf course and one I had little difficulty with in the practice round, although my short putting was alarmingly poor.

I made five birdies, including three in a row at one point en route to an easy 75 in the practice round. I made about four absolute BOMBS of 20 feet or more, including a beauty on the par three 13th from about 40 feet off the green for bird. I honestly don't remember making that many long putts in one round but it was tempered by the fact I three-putted four times and had a tremendous amount of trouble with short putts.

The greens were LIGHTNING fast and the new grip I was using while putting didn't seem to work well on the short ones. But hey, 75 is a darned good score so no complaints.

I felt ready to put a good score together in the first event of the tour.

Last year, I had two top-six finishes in five events and ended up placing 11th overall, a fantastic improvement over my mid-30's finish in 2004. Click here to relive the details of my second place finish in the final event from last year at Beechwood Golf Club.

My goal this year is to improve on that performance and challenge for a win at one of the five events I play. There are six legs to the tour this year but unfortunately, a business trip in August will keep me from playing in the event at Sparrow Lakes. Thankfully, I won't be penalized for missing an event, as a new wrinkle to the tour this year sees a player's worst event 'thrown out' and points not counted.

So the zero I post for that day won't hold me back.

I drove up to Bridgewater with my buddy Jay, also a tour member (and my caddy during Club Championship last year). I decided to stick with the new putting grip for the round, even if it meant a few missed putts.

Gotta trust it, right?

I got off to a rough start. I hit a poor rescue off the first tee, a very difficult 423 yard par four with a creek that bisects the fairway 275 yards from the tee, which takes driver out of my hands. I was forced to hit another rescue to the green, which I missed right. My pitch shot rolled through the green and I missed the ten footer for par. I bogeyed the second and then three-putted the easy par five third hole for a double bogey, putting myself at +4 through three holes.

I was able to right the ship, making a nice two-putt par on the treacherously sloped fourth green and just missed making birdie on the par five fifth. However, I three putted once again on the par three sixth and I made the decision to revert BACK to my usual putting grip on short putts, as confidence was waning.

I parred the last three holes on the front to escape with a 41 but promptly threw away two more shots on the benign 10th hole. I skulled my gap wedge second about 20 yards over the green onto the 11th tee and was forced to hit a running shot under a tree that kept on running 60 feet past the pin. Three putts later for my second double of the day.

I got one back on the next hole, making an 8 footer for birdie to get back to +6 on the day but that would be the only red number on my card this day.

Bogeys on the short 313 yard 14th and the mid-length par four 17th (my fourth three putt of the day) and pars on the rest added up to a disappointing 80 on the day.

Scores were pretty high overall, as the course played firm and fast with some very difficult pin positions. I ended up in a tie for 21st in the first event of the year out of 62 golfers; one of them did not finish the round.

You can check out the Niagara Men's Tour website for all the details. I don't like the way they've allocated points on the results page (everyone from 49th place on got 7 points, strangely) but oh well...who am I to complain!

The Men's Tour has 63 members this year and a place on next year's tour will require a top-30 finish overall for official exemption.

I'll have to be better if I'm to challenge for my desired top ten position, that much is for sure. There are a number of really good young players on tour this year, mostly graduates from our local junior tour.

Next event is Sunday May 28th at Grand Niagara Golf Club, a course I've played once before.

It should be a fun year!

I'll be back tomorrow with more from the PGA Village trip.

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