Already up in New England, checking out the summer golf scene in places like Cape Cod, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine for Golf Advisor, it made sense: Why not play in a couple of Golf Channel Am Tour events while up there?
Of course, I was hoping to escape from the heat. And while it was hotter than usual in New England, it still doesn’t compare to Houston, where the temperature and humidity have both approached 100 lately.
So I set up GC Am Tour stops at two places. A deviation from my New England route brought me to my first GC Am Tour stop in Vernon, N.Y., and my second major of the year – the Turning Stone Classic. And while I might have come all the way from Texas, I was hardly the only one who traveled a significant distance to be there. There were players from as far away as California, and my playing competitors in the first round – Jim Cillo (5th) and Joel Eiler (T4) — had made the trip respectively from the Charlotte, N.C., and Baltimore areas.
“I really like the courses,” said Cillo. “That’s why I make the trip up here.”
Indeed, the Turning Stone Classic epitomizes what the Golf Channel Am Tour represents – a tour-like experience for everyday golfers. There’s the pressure, the exhilaration and in this case, championship conditions. The last of which came as no surprise since just a couple of weeks earlier, the resort played host to the PGA Professional Championship, which was televised on the Golf Channel.
So far, I’ve had played in seven events, each of them on golf courses that were more than enjoyable, but the courses at Turning Stone certainly impressed the most. Basically, they were flawless from tee to green and the setup was pretty much perfect.
What wasn’t perfect was my golf game. Not much to talk about there. The first day we played on the Kaluhyat Course, a difficult Robert Trent Jones design that doesn’t take kindly to spraying the ball, both off the tee and the approach with water and high grass off the fairways. I had two-way misses going all day. Needless to say, I need to get back to the practice tee and work on my most recent lesson. I had hoped I wouldn’t take a step backward, but I did. I was lost. It happens. Let’s just say the points I earned were pretty much participation points, but I really enjoyed the experience nonetheless.
The next day, we were paired up according to finish (I had an early tee time) on the Atunyote (the Oneida word for ‘eagle’) Course, a wonderful Tom Fazio parkland layout that used to host the Turning Stone Classic on the PGA Tour. My day 2 performance was five shots better (92), but that wasn’t saying much. I wasn’t quite as lost, but as Charles Barkley once said, I wasn’t “feelin’ it.”
Of course, I was up against a pretty good field. The overall winner, by the way, was Donald Owens, a 48-year-old from Thurmont, Md. Owens, who fired a 74-76–150. He has made a habit of winning this season; Turning Stone was his ninth victory. Robert Krueger, a 56-year-old from Denville, N.J., won my flight, the Senior Palmer, with an 80-77–157.
The Turing Stone Classic was the first of two events I played while on my road trip to New England. The second was a little more low-key, I was part of a much smaller field that took on a wonderful Damien Pascuzzo design, The Ranch Club, on the former country retreat of the Crane Paper Co., in the rolling hills of Western Mass.
Not only did I enjoy the course, but I couldn’t have played with a nicer bunch of fellas, my cart partner in particular. Because of the size of the field, my group actually had a mixture of Hogan players and Palmer players, though it was hard to tell the difference between to the two flights on this day. The Hogan flight winner, Thomas Keenan of nearby Southampton, Mass, was in my group. He fired a 76 to not only win the Hogan, but had the overall low score, too.
My cart partner was pretty decent, too. Having not played competitively in a while because he was coming off an injury, Vance Gray, who came all the way down from Bangor, Maine, showed little rust, making eagle on the first hole and posting a 79 to win the Palmer flight. For a while there, I gave him some competition – I was actually leading the Palmer Flight by two at 3-over-par through 11 holes — but a meltdown down the stretch once again took me out of contention.
So, the bottom line is I haven’t qualified yet for the Nationals. My best shot will come during the Houston Tour Championship in two weeks. I’m also at home for a while and plan to practice a good bit until then. No matter how this turns out, this has been a memorable learning experience. But more than that, casual rounds just aren’t as meaningful anymore. I really want to get this tournament thing solved.