The championship of local golf, it is designed to identify the top amateur player in Lebanon County.
It is one of the most historic events in all of local sports.
The Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship is an extremely important tournament. But this year’s edition will take on even more meaning and signficance, despite the fact that its most dangerous nemesis – participation – has reared its ugly head again.
With all due respect to a couple of area dirt-racing tracks, when the 62nd annual edition of the Lebanon County Amateur tees it up on Saturday and Sunday, June 27-28 at the par-71, 6,136-yard Lebanon Valley Golf Course in Myerstown, it will represent the first organized sporting event involving Lebanon County competitors, since the state has been closed by the Coronavirus crisis. The last organized sporting event involving local residents occurred on Thursday March 12th, when the Northern Lebanon girls’ basketball team defeated Danville 48-37 at Shamokin Area High School, in the second round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs.
“I think that’s exciting to know, that we’re going to be the first event,” said Justin Arnt, the County Amateur’s tournament director. “Hopefully, word of mouth will go around among the players. Hopefully, positivity will come from this. We can still do the things we like to do, and still be safe.
“I think it may make it a little more signficant, in the sense we’ve gone two-and-a-half months without any kind of activity,” continued Arnt. “We want to attract the same amount of players, or more. We’re going to make sure the golf course is taking the right safety measures. We’re focusing on the tournament and making sure it runs smoothly. We want to be mindful of social distancing and players’ safety.”
The decision to play this year’s County Amateur was made at a lengthy meeting involving Arnt and seven other members of the Lebanon County Golf Association last week. Ultimately, the 2020 event will look like it does most years, with few exceptions.
The Lebanon County Amateur has been contested every summer since its inception in 1959.
“The meeting involved going over the pros and cons of having the tournament and not having it,” said Arnt. “We wanted to follow all safety precautions. I think a little of the hesitation revolved around when we could have it. After plenty of discussion, we decided to have it. Lancaster County is planning on having their’s at the same time. We were looking at other areas. We’ve had players reach out to us inquiring if we were going to have it. We ultimately felt we could take the correct precautions and still have the tournament.
“We really don’t know how it’s going to affect the field,” Arnt added. “But overall, we think we’ll have a good turnout and get good players. Maybe it’ll attract more players because they’ve been off six-to-eight weeks.”
The strength of the field certainly took a hit when reigning champion Jim Gardner decided not to defend his 2019 County Amateur crown. Instead, Gardner, and a handful of the other top local players, opted to compete in the three-day, Harrisburg-district Nolan Ziegler tournament at the Country Club of Harrisburg, over the same weekend.
Gardner captured his fourth Lebanon County Amateur crown last year, over the same Lebanon Valley course, with a two-day, record score of 134. The possibility exists that the champions of the last seven County Amateur tournament will not be present at this year’s event.
“I’m not going to be in the Amateur this year,” said Gardner. “I know quite a few of the decent players aren’t going to be there. They moved the Ziegler to the same weekend, and it’s a bigger event, more fun. I’ve played in it (the Ziegler) the last ten or 12 years.
“It’s nothing against the County, but I play the (Harrisburg) district events,” Gardner continued. “When I was younger, I played all the county events. But I think what happened was you used to have to be a member of a country club to play in district events. But over time, when golf participation started dwindling, they opened it up to the public. And Harrisburg events became more popular.”
“Guys haven’t been playing because of the Coronavirus,” said Arnt. “That could also be a downside to it, because guys haven’t been able to practice. But we’ve always held this tournament at the same time of the year, because it’s important to the golf association and the players. We’re excited to get back at it.”
“I’m thrilled I have four of them,” said Gardner, 51. “Hopefully, I can play in it again and get more of them. But it’s (Page’s record) not something I’m focused on.
In 2019, Gardner’s fourth overall Lebanon County amateur title moved him to within one of the record five owned by legendary golfer Bob Page. Gardner, who preceded Arnt as the tournament’s director, had competed in the past 25 County Amateurs, again believed to be some sort of record.
“Lebanon County golf is important to me,” added Gardner. “We tried like crazy to get more people to play. But over the years, it went down and down. We don’t have the younger people taking the places of the older people. I don’t know what the County (golf assocation) can do to get more people to play.”
The Lebanon County Golf Association has tenatively scheduled three more events for the rest of its season – the Lebanon County Senior Amateur Championship at the Lebanon Country Club on July 31, the Lebanon County Better-Ball-of-Partners tournament at Blue Mountain on August 15 and 16, and the Lebanon County Two-Man Scramble on October 3 at Pine Meadows.
Meanwhile, the 75th annual W.B. Sullivan Better-Ball-of-Partners tournament, which is not an LCGA event, is scheduled to be contested at the Lebanon Country Club on July 23-26.
Lebanon County Amateur Golf Championship
(Year, Player, Score and Course)
2019- Jim Gardner, 134, LV
2018 – Tyler Massar, 136, BM
2017 – Dan Brown, 136, FV
2016 – Jim Gardner, 139, PM
2015 – Jim Gardner, 141, LV
2014 – Dan Brown, 140, RO
2013 – Mike Schmidt, Jr., 136, FV
2012 – Tony Deraco, 136 BMV
2011 – Dan Brown, 142, PM
2010 – Ryan Schneiter, MV
2009 — Tim Leeper, 138, LV
2008 — Mike Schmidt Jr., 139, RO
2007 — Andy Gibbons, 140, FV
2006 — Jim Gardner, 104 BMV (27 holes)
2005 — Bill Massar Jr., 139 PM
2004 — Blaine Peffley, 144 BM
2003 — Chris Gebhard, 137 MV
2002 — Joe Faller, 139, FV
2001 — Jon DiGiacomo, 145, RO
2000 — Blaine Peffley, 143, FV
1999 — Roger Karsnitz, 146, MV
1998 — Chad Schulze, 139, FV
1997 — Chad Schulze, 144, MV
1996 — Chris Gebhard, 141, FV
1995 — Bill Massar Jr., 71, MV (18 holes)
1994 — John Gross, 144, MV
1993 — Mike Schmidt, 143, MV
1992 — Jeff Hoke, 148, MV
1991 — Joe Faller, 147, MV 1990 — Dennis Toomey, 145, MV
1989 — Joe Faller, 146, MV
1988 — Bob Page, 146, MV
1987 — Michael Brooks, 149, MV
1986 — John Gross, 147, MV
1985 — Pete Gebhard, 145, MV
1984 — Bob Page, 139, BM
1983 — Roger Karsnitz, 148, FV
1982 — Pete Gebhard, 72, MV (18 holes)
1981 — Stu Ingraham, 140, LV
1980 — Ben Witter, 141, MV
1979 — Tom Lape, 140, BM
1978 — Stu Ingraham, 144, FV
1977 — Russ Ditzler, 145, PM
1976 — Jim Sherman, 138, LV
1975 — Bob Page, 150, MV
1974 — Kye Golembewski, 141, BM
1973 — George Eisley, 147, FV
1972 — Roger Karsnitz, 144, PM
1971 — William Weik, 142, LV
1970 — Paul Ingraham, 157, MV
1969 — Bob Page, 144, BM
1968 — Ron Will, 147, FV
1967 — Bob Page, 139, PM
1966 — William Weik, 143, LV
1965 — Joseph Spesak, 141, BM
1964 — Tom Donnachie Jr., 149, FV
1963 — William Weik, 149, LCC
1962 — Joseph Spesak, 140, LV
1961 — Tom Donnachie Jr., 144, FV
1960 — Joseph Spesak, 145, LCC
1959 — George Moeschlin Jr., 144, LV
Key: RO — Royal Oaks, FV — Fairview, MV — Monroe Valley, BM — Blue Mountain, LV — Lebanon Valley, PM — Pine Meadows, LCC — Lebanon Country Club