GLADSTONE - A Gladstone Golf Club member has never won a U.P. Men's Golf title.
Joe Quinn will have every opportunity to become the first when the the Upper Peninsula Golf Association Championship comes to the pristine Gladstone Golf Club, beginning Thursday for its 100th year.
"We're ready and excited for the big week," said course manager Lou Klein. "It's the 100-year anniversary and we're in good shape. We've come a long way from that vicious winter and we've been blessed with a nice piece of property here."
Quinn would seemingly have the advantage playing on his home course where he regularly shoots for par.
"I probably know this course a little bit better because I play it more, but even shooting par for four days would be a fantastic score, at least that's what I've been thinking," Quinn said. "I know how hard it is to shoot par on a regular basis, so I would be very pleased."
The interesting 128-player tournament field does not include last year's runner up and Highland Club Champion Mike Nagy of Manistique, or recent Escanaba Country Club champion and two-time UPGA runner-up Tyler Way of Escanaba. Also absent will be Tim Drees of Menominee, Jon and Dan Ellis.
However, Scott Lancour will compete with the chance to become the first to successfully defend a UPGA title since Jay Jurecic won in 1998 and 1999. Also in the field is Brian Robinette of Escanaba, making his first appearance in the UPGA Tournament since 2002 and 2012 champion Jim Markell of Iron Mountain.
Perhaps most notable is that 60 players from the field plays with a handicap of single digits.
The tournament will be flighted after the first two days. All golfers will receive two sleeves of golf balls with the 100th year anniversary on it, as a special offering for the 100th year.
"It's going to be a strong field. We have eight fights of 16 golfers and roughly half the field are single-digit handicaps. That's not normal for a U.P. men's field and it will make for a tough championship flight," said tournament co-director Rick Ebbesen.
A handful of players from the field noted the challenges of the reputably difficult course at Gladstone, where the UPGA tournament hasn't been held since 1993.
"It's such a tough course," said Lancour. "The greens are tricky, probably the toughest part of the course. If they're too fast, you can get defensive and you're not going to make too many birdies being defensive."
Lancour won at Indian Lake last year, shooting 286 to beat Nagy by three strokes, but he tempered his own expectations going into this weekend.
"Gladstone doesn't suit my game very well,. Manistique was perfect for me course-wise. Gladstone is a little tighter, you need to know where to hit it. Members have a huge advantage," Lancour said, noting he's played the course a half-dozen times this year. "I'll take shooting par (72) for four days. That would be perfect."
Robinette's familiarity with the Gladstone course may give him a leg up, even though he's stayed away from this event for over a decade.
"Gladstone is a course, from the standpoint of my game, it's more of a shot-makers course, which I really like," Robinette said. "It takes the driver out of your hand a little bit. The greens are always a challenge depending on where they put the pins. From the tee box until you hole-out, it's always a big chore to get those putts in the hole.
"I always look forward to playing at Gladstone. It's in immaculate condition, and it's a great U.P. course. The guy who wins is not going to do it by luck, they'll have to be a good sinker."
Robinette's last foray into the UPGA Tournament is still fresh in his memory. He was runner-up in the 2002 Tournament, finishing a whopping 19 strokes behind champion John Koskinen, who set a course record at Pine Grove that weekend, which he still holds.
"He shot a 64 and a 66 that weekend," said Robinette. "I knew him pretty well at that point. He was a very good, accomplished, talented kid. We were all duking it out for second place. I was right around par if I recollect."
For a member the course may not pose as much of a challenge. Quinn has experienced a variety of pin placements on the course and is prepared for anything, but even though he serves on the board at the golf club, he had no hand in the planning for the UPGA, other than the banquet meal.
"It's a home course advantage, but I really don't know what they're going to do. I don't know if there will be tough pins, easy pins, but I can only assume they'll be easier because we have certain holes that will be tough no matter what. A lot of that is because The winter kill made it so only certain parts of the green can be used. I think they'll keep it decent to keep a good pace of play."
One man who is rooting for the home team is 2012 UPGA champion Jim Markell. He's played the Gladstone course a few times and noticed something each time he and his wife played here.
"Whenever I was there, Quinn would be out there practicing. Him and Robinette know that course better than anyone and Quinn will be a tough one to beat. He's won 13 or 14 club championships.
"I'm kind of rooting for him to be honest, I wouldn't mind putting up a fight, but I always root for the home guy."
Markell acknowledges the challenges of a 4-day competitive event, but said he was determined to put fourth a good effort.
"For guys like me in this event, in their 40s, to play competitive golf for four days in this stage of our lives, it gets to be tough," he said. "We're all going to work Monday morning so it does put a little stress on your life. Still, you always want to play good.
"The course is always in beautiful shape. The greens are super and so is the clubhouse. Lou the manager does a nice job running the facilities."
Quinn admitted the thought of being the first Gladstone Golf Club member to win a UPGA has been on his mind.
"It's been on my mind for 10 years or better. I want to be the first one, no doubt about it," Quinn said. "I used to joke with Alice Altese, who won the UPLGA in 1953. Every year the U.P.'s would come and I'd say 'I'm going to join your club. I was young at the time and Alice used to give me good advice. She told me when she won the U.P. in 1953 that she was a good player, but she never had an idea she would win it. She was an underdog and wasn't expecting it.
"I wanted to join her club but I always had to tell her afterward, I didn't make it this year."