By Dennis Grall
For The Daily News
ESCANABA - There is always a good reason to look into the past while building for the future, and that is what officials in the Upper Peninsula Golf Association did while preparing for this week's men's tournament.
Slow play issues, which are being targeted across the country, have plagued recent UPGA tournaments, including the last time it was held at Manistique Indian Lake Golf and Country Club in 2004. That is the site of the 99th annual event that begins a four-day run Thursday.
Under the direction of co-chairmen Rob Ryan and Bob Sands, and with input from highly respected grounds superintendent Glenn Rasmussen, the set-up has been toned down for this year's event. Heinous pin locations on super slick greens, and abetted by some tough weather conditions, helped scores skyrocket in 2004 when the field of 212 golfers split their 72 holes at Manistique and Munising Pictured Rocks.
This week's field of 104 players will not face tough playing conditions, although they have no control over the weather, which left the course drenched with several downpours over the past week-plus. The weather forecast is promising, although we all know the accuracy of that scenario.
"The course chewed people up," Ryan admitted recently during a discussion of this week's event and the 2004 tourney.
Saying it chewed up people is putting it mildly. The scores in the 16-man championship flight that final day in 2004 at Indian Lake ranged from the 76 shot by champion Matt Smith of Escanaba - one of just five rounds under 80 - all the way up to 99.
Ryan said "we want to ensure that the course plays easier this time. The greens will be normal, everyday speed and the hole locations will be medium."
Noting the course "will not be extremely cut," Ryan said there will be a first cut on the fairways that will allow more room for wayward shots to land and be found quicker.
"We don't need to trick it up. It will be as tough as usual," Ryan said of an excellent course noted for being challenging. "The distance of the course and the speed of the greens will be much easier than 2004."
He said "three-four pins will be hard. We had some bad memories (from 2004) and we don't want them to return. There will be a lot of 10-15 handicap guys who come here and we want them to have a fun and enjoyable experience. You can't set it up for the best players."
If the wind comes howling off adjoining Indian Lake, all bets are off.
The white tees (6,015 yards) will be used for all players the first two days and only the top two flights will use the blue tees (6,486 yards) the final two days. In an effort to improve the playing pace, the fourth hole beside Indian Lake will be reduced by using the forward tee of 403 yards and will be a par four, instead of the 455-yard par five.
"We're shooting for four-and-half hour rounds," said Ryan. "We hope the pace of play is pretty good. The UPGA told us to address the pace of play any way we could."
University of Tennessee sophomore golfer Mike Nagy of Manistique, considered the tourney favorite, said his home layout "is a pretty fair golf course. There is a good mix of par three holes. There is nothing too tricky."
The four-time men's club champion and course record holder with 12-under-par 60, Nagy said "I will try to be aggressive, make some birdies and hopefully I am the one people are chasing. The holes aren't overly long, you can hit wedge into most of the holes."
Defending champion Jim Markell of Iron Mountain Pine Grove said "you don't need to be long at Manistique. You need to have accuracy and be good around the greens."
(Retired Daily Press Sports Editor Dennis Grall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)