106th Michigan Amateur Championship Starts Tuesday at Egypt Valley Country Club
ADA – Sam Weatherhead has a bit of inside track on the field in defending his title.
The Michigan State University golfer from Grand Rapids is a golf shop employee of Egypt Valley Country Club, which will host the 106th Michigan Amateur Championship next Tuesday through Saturday.
In the minutes following his victory in the 2016 Michigan Amateur Championship at Eagle Eye Golf Club in Bath Weatherhead was thinking about defending at his workplace.
“I’ve played Egypt Valley a lot, obviously, and I feel like the course really fits my game,” he said. “I can’t wait to defend. Like Eagle Eye, Egypt Valley makes you hit all the shots and putt well, too. It puts a lot of pressure on your short game, and I think that is why I won (last year). My short game produced every time I needed it.”
Egypt Valley is just 27-years-old as a facility located east of Grand Rapids in Ada Township, but has a history of testing golf games and has built a tournament resume worthy of the most traditional and historic clubs in Michigan.
When the field of 162 Starts next Tuesday it will be the second time the Michigan Amateur Championship has been played at Egypt Valley. The Golf Association of Michigan brought the 1994 championship to the sprawling modern facility.
Brian Atkinson of Cassopolis, then a University of Illinois golfer, won the 1994 Amateur by beating Egypt Valley member Kurt Hassberger 1-up in a dramatic championship match.
The Michigan Women’s Amateur has been played at the club twice (1996 and 2007). Then EVCC member Stacy Slobodnik (Stoll), who is now the head women’s golf coach at Michigan State University, won in 1996 and Laura Bavaird of Grosse Ile won in 2007.
Weatherhead, who beat Grand Valley State golfer Domenic Mancinelli in last year’s title match, is not the only former champion in the field with an Egypt Valley connection. Andy Matthews of Ada, the 2001 champion and a second-year reinstated amateur after several years as a touring professional, grew up at Egypt Valley with his parents as members. Matthews reached the quarterfinals last year at Eagle Eye.
Nine former champions are in the field, including Weatherhead and Matthews. The others are Ryan Johnson of New Boston (2015), Henry Do of Canton (2014), Andrew Chapman of Traverse City (2013), Tom Werkmeister of Grandville (2009), Randy Lewis of Alma (1992 and ’99), Steve Maddalena of Jackson (1990 and ’95) and Doug Hoey of Holland (1991).
Hoey was a 17-year-old from Dearborn when he won in ’91 at Michaywe’ Pines in Gaylord. Lewis was a qualifying co-medalist with Bob Sakocius in the 1994 Amateur at Egypt Valley.
Egypt Valley has been played by legends of the game in tournament play, too. The Champions Tour (then Senior PGA Tour) visited from 1994 to 2003. Winners at Egypt Valley included Tony Jacklin, David Stockton, Gil Morgan, George Archer, Larry Nelson and Jim Thorpe.
The club also hosted the 2010 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, which was won by California’s Jim Liu, and included in the field current PGA Tour stars Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.
The Michigan PGA Section played their last two section championships at Egypt Valley with Gull Lake Country Club’s Dan Urban and Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member Scott Hebert of Traverse City Golf & Country Club emerging as champions.
Egypt Valley has two 18-hole courses, the Valley and the Ridge designed by Arthur Hills. The Valley was used in previous visits by the GAM, but in 2017 the Amateur field will play what is called the Tournament Course, or the back nine parts of the two courses. That’s the same layout the PGA, the Michigan PGA and the USGA have used in their tournament visits, and it was also used in a GAM-administered U.S. Open qualifier held there last summer.
“The (Tournament Course) is great and it really defines who has the best short game because you get lies near the greens that are very different from a lot of other golf courses,” Ken Hartmann, the GAM’s director of rules and competitions, said. “There are a lot of bunkers, grass and sand, ledges and elevated greens with undulation that are not very big. It really puts a premium on shot making. The field will have to have their short games ready that week.”
Hartmann said the par 5s are somewhat short by modern standards, and the par threes are very difficult.
“It’s like playing 18 par fours in a way, and we can adjust tees to change distances and angles,” he said. “It’s like a newer style Bedford Valley (Battle Creek). It will be a great challenge and define a great champion.”
The field will play 36 holes of stroke play Tuesday and Wednesday to determine the low 64 scorers who move on to the match play bracket seeded by score. Two rounds of match play will continue each day through Saturday to determine a champion. The public is welcome to attend.
ABOUT THE GAM: Founded in 1919, the Golf Association of Michigan is the governing body for amateur golf in the state. As a not-for-profit organization, the GAM’s purpose is to promote, preserve and serve the game of golf. The GAM, served by over 250 dedicated volunteers, provides membership to more than 55,000 golfers and more than 470 Michigan golf courses, conducts over 30 amateur championships, oversees 18 USGA qualifying events, administers the GAM/USGA Handicap System and measures and rates almost 70 courses a year for the USGA. Learn more at www.gam.org.