It has become a fact of life in today’s world. But how do small or dwindling fields affect the competitive levels of local golf tournaments like the County Amateur?
On the surface, smaller fields would seem to mean that there are fewer players who can win. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
The County Amateur continues to attract most of the top local players. Plus, historically speaking, today’s winning scores stack up very favorably to those of the past.
And so another year is upon us.
The story lines will be familiear when the 60th editiion of the Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship unfolds this Saturday and Sunday at the 5,558-yard, par-71 Blue Mountain Golf Course in Fredericksburg. A small field of 25-30 players is expected, but many of the top competitors should be on hand, including defending champion Dan Brown.
“I don’t think so,” said Brown, when asked if smaller fields mean they’re less competitive. “You’re always going to have different abilities. Some players in the past did it just to have fun and to be around the guys. There’s 15-20 guys who can realistically win it. The talent here is better.
“I would agree 100 percent (that modern scores are just as low or lower),” continued Brown. “If you look at the history of it, it’s pretty close. I don’t look at it like this generation is better than the older generation. But I think the competition is pretty strong.”
“I would say, ‘No,'” said tournament director Justin Arnt, when posed the same question. “The last two or three years we’ve had low numbers and we had quality fields. I would say 70 percent of the players could win the tournament. It’s still an honor to win. There’s still very highly competitive golfers in the field. To win it is something special.
“The (Lebanon County Golf) Association continues to work hard to think of different ways to modify these events to get more players to play,” added Arnt. “We’re constantly boucning ideas off of each other.”
The County Amateur that Brown captured last year at Fairview Golf Course sported the event’s smallest field ever – 29 players. The field at this year’s championship of local amateur golf is expected to rival that.
Lebanon County Amateur fields have been in steady decline since the tournament’s heydays of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“Nothing against Blue Mountain, but I thought going into it the numbers were going to be a little lower,” added Arnt. “Over the past couple of years, Blue Mountain hasn’t been in great shape. I’m not trying to put anything on Blue Mountain. There’s just not as many younger players playing competitive golf. We’re even having trouble with the junior golf program. I feel like it’s dying. Golf is expensive.”
“I really don’t care about the numbers,” said Brown. “We kind of say year-to-year, ‘It’s the guys who want to be in it.’ As a whole for the County, some guys don’t want to play in individual events. It is what it is.
“Every year, one person is going to win,” Brown added. “To be able to get over that hurdle, you’ve got to dig deep. I feel like in my mind, I try to eliminate the negative thoughts. Confidence is a big part of it. It’s pretty gratifying knowing you can win it. But sometimes the results you get out of it is the work you put into it.”
Brown’s two-day total of 136 last year tied him for the lowest County Amateur winning score at Fairview, and tied him for the lowest County Amateur winning score ever. It was his third Lebanon County Amateur Golf championship overall, all of which have come in the last seven years.
“I remember just playing pretty solid,” said Brown. “It was a pretty good fight down the stretch with Cody (Kersey). For myself, growing up in Lebanon County and looking up to the guys who won the County Amateur, I always wondered how my game stacked up. I guess the sword got sharpened by not winning. Golf is a lot of repetition. Doing it well when it doesn’t count makes it a little easier when it does.
“Once you do it once, it becomes a little easier,” Brown continued. “I think of it like it’s a stepping stone. It moved me to play in bigger events.”
“What I remember is the quality of the field,” said Arnt. “Even though we had lower numbers, we had quality players in the tournament. Fairview played fair. The greens were a little slower overall, but I thought it was a good tournament.
“It’s important because you’re playing your own golf ball, your own score,” continued Arnt. “It’s different than a better-ball. You’re playing the ball down. It’s you versus the field. It’s you versus the course. You’ve got to control your feelings and keep yourself in check. For anyone who grew up in Lebanon County, I think it’s a tournament you want to win. A lot of the players know each other, and you want to beat them. There’s still some pride.”
Blue Mountain is not the longest golf course in Lebanon County, but that does not mean it doesn’t present its own unique set of challenges. Blue Mountain’s greens are small, tricky and punishes players whose balls come to rest above the cup.
“I haven’t really played there in a while,” said Brown. “It’s by no means a cake walk. The greens are the course’s defense.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Brown added. “I want to see what I can do, what the course is like. I’m clicking on all cylinders. I feel like if you can play average, around even par, you have a chance.”
“Blue Mountain’s not a long golf course,” said Arnt. “If you can position your ball well, you can score well. You have to leave yourself right. Fifteen-footers up hill are better than five-footers down hill.
“If a player is not comfortable with the golf course, it may determine whether or not he plays it,” added Arnt.
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Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship
1989 — Joe Faller, 146, MV