BY JEFF FALK
While it has definitely ebbed and flowed over the years, there is a certain amount of prestige attached to winning the Lebanon County Amateur golf championship. Not only is the winner honored as the champion of local amateur golf, he is also recognized as the top player in Lebanon County and is ostensibly grouped into a list of the locale’s greatest players of all time.
This year’s – the 58th edition – of Lebanon County’s most historic golf tournament will be contested Saturday and Sunday over Lebanon Valley Golf Course’s 6,136-yard, par-71 test. As expected, there will be plenty at stake.
Reigning Lebanon County champion Dan Brown will be looking to defend his crown against a field short on quantity but long on quality.
“I would say this, with Bob Page recently passing away, this will be a special County Amateur,” said Brown, referring to one of the greatest amateur golfers Lebanon County has ever produced. “I look back at the guys who have won it and they’re some of the best players who have ever come out of here. I feel a sense of pride having won it twice. Not coming from a golfing family, I think it’s something I’ve worked for.”
“Growing up in Lebanon County and being introduced to ‘The Guys’, that started when I played back at Pine Meadows,” said Jimmy Gardner, who will be directing the Lebanon County Amateur for the last time. “We had a good group of guys, and we might have had 40 or 50. Back then, the county amateur was something everybody played in and wanted to win. Our county events might have been more important back in the day. There’s a lot more Harrisburg district events now. But prestige-wise, we had a really good group of golfers.”
Last year at Royal Oaks, Brown became just the ninth golfer ever to win multiple Lebanon County Amateur titles, when he fired a two-under total of 140. Brown’s total was two shots lower than runner-up, friend and rival Andy Gibbons.
This year, Brown will be gunning to become only the fourth local player to win three County Amateur titles – one of whom was Page, who captured a record five.
“Last year was one of the better times I had playing golf,” said Brown. “I was two shots back at the start of the second day. I knew I had to play well, and being able to pull it off was satisfying. Winning it a second time was special. It definitely got the juices flowing.
“I’ve been playing and practicing,” added Brown. “The game for this weekend is in pretty good form. We’ll see how it all shakes out.”
“Last year was at Royal Oaks and I remember Danny played a really solid round to edge Andy and Cody (Kersey),” said Gardner. “I think it was one of the better rounds Danny played. I remember Danny was really excited. He played really well down the stretch.”
It would seem that Gibbons will head a group which will provide the biggest threat to Brown’s crown, a group that also includes two-time past winner Bill Massar, Jr. and Gardner. But Lebanon Valley will be represented by a strong contingent of players who consider the Myerstown course their home, players like club champion Justin Arnt, reigning Lebanon County senior amateur champion Kerry Wentling, Tony Deraco, Tim Leeper and others.
“Andy and Jimmy, they’re going to be good,” said Brown. “It is what it is. Anybody can win. There’s a group who play down there all the time. I look forward to it. It’s like any other course, you’ve got to put the ball in the hole.
“If I feel I can’t win, I think I’d stop playing,” Brown continued. “I’m still competitive. I try to win. Showing up, I expect to do my best.”
“That’s always been the case,” said Gardner. “As the fields have gotten smaller, we still have a lot of strong players. There’s a couple of guys who should be factors because they play there a lot and they’re good players. It’s like their home course.”
Given Lebanon Valley’s length, the emphasis will be on putting this weekend. But make no mistake about the fact that trouble lurks around every corner.
“It’s obviously not a long course,” said Brown. “But you can get in trouble closer to the hole. I heard the rough is high and the greens are quick. I don’t think it’s (scores) going to be as low as people think.
“I think there will be a little more importance placed on putting,” Brown added. “The greens are small there. It’s not so much the putting. I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of three-putts. What happens there is you miss the greens.”
“At Lebanon Valley, the first thing you think of is that it’s a short course, but it’s always in really good shape,” said Gardner. “It’s like a lot of courses. It’s where you miss it. If you keep it in play and miss it at the right spots, you’re going to score. You can make birdies down there.”
The fact that this year’s Lebanon County Amateur attracted only 30 players is a bit concerning. But Gardner insists it’s a result of changing this year’s date, and the resulting conflict with other area events, including a father-son better-ball at Manada.
“We moved it up this year, and in hind sight, it conflicted with Fathers’ Day Weekend and other tournaments,” said Gardner. “It reduced us by about 12 players. It reduced the field by about 25 percent. Next year we’re moving it back to the end of June.
“I believe it’s just a one-year thing,” continued Gardner. “I play a lot of Harrisburg district events and entries are down there too. You clearly see it. Fields are a lot smaller. It’s everywhere. We don’t have the younger players coming up and we’re losing our veterans. To me, that’s the biggest factor.”
“I like the camaraderie,” said Brown. “I like the guys. It’s the county amateur. It’s where I grew up. Jimmy works hard on it. I try to support Lebanon County a little bit.”
The low turnout played no role in Gardner’s decision to step aside as the tournament’s director – a post that is expected to be filled by Arnt. After a dozen years of serving the Lebanon County Golf Association in that capacity, it was simply Gardner’s time.
“This is going to be the last year I’m doing it,” said Gardner, 46. “Why do I enjoy doing it? It’s one weekend of the year that I help out. Growing up with Lebanon County golf, it’s important to me. It really isn’t that much work. I definitely feel the ties, being from Lebanon County.
“I was talking to Justin Arnt and I told him, ‘I’d be willing to step down. Would you be willing to take over?'” Gardner continued. “I think that’s what’s going to happen next year. I’ll let someone else take over. I’ve done it for a while.”
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58th Annual Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship
(at 6,136-yard, Par-72 Lebanon Valley Golf Course)
Saturday’s Starting Time