Gladstone set to host 1st UPGA championship since 2005

GLADSTONE — For the first time since 2005, the Upper Peninsula Golf Association men’s tournament returns to Terrace Bluff Golf and Country Club this week.

The four-day tournament begins Wednesday and runs through Saturday. Tee times are 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. each day.

Much to the delight of the rest of the record-low 72-player field, defending champion Hunter Eichhorn of Carney will not be in this year’s field as he is gone on a golf tour to Scotland with his Marquette University teammates.

Eichhorn won last year’s tournament at Oak Crest Golf Course in Norway by 13 strokes after shooting a tournament record 267 through four rounds. He won the Wisconsin state amateur title last month at Lawsonia Lakes in Green Lakes.

“Obivously, Hunter’s a dominating performer,” Bluff owner and director of golf Tony Pouliot said. “With his absence, it opens it up a little bit more. It all depends how the field breaks out.”

Five former champions return this year, including Matt Argall on his home course, Joe Quinn of Gladstone Golf Course, Brian Robinette of Escanaba Country Club, Jim Markell of Pine Grove Country Club in Iron Mountain, and last year’s runner-up, Mark Clements of Ishpeming Wawonowin.

“Those are the five champions that are returning to the field, but there are lot of strong players that aren’t past champions,” Pouliot said. “Bryce Douglas and John Kositzky Jr. will be contenders — both those kids play college golf. Rudy Peterson is another one to watch for. This is his home course so he has some knowledge that maybe other people don’t have. The Gauthier brothers — Dylan and Mark — they know what it takes to win here. Course knowledge gives these players an advantage. If the top 16 guys are equal, guys who have the extra course knowledge will have an advantage.”

Pouliot said the public is welcome.

“The general public is more than welcome to come out and watch this,” he said. “There’s good golf to be had.”

Argall, a member at Terrace Bluff and a 2015 champion at Little River Country Club in Marinette, says he is looking forward to it despite thinking the course isn’t in great shape.

“It’s nice and it’s convenient,” he said about playing at home. “It should be interesting to see how people like it. The course has kind of been getting a bad name the last few years with conditions, but I’m looking forward to it.

“I’ve been on it quite a bit. I usually play two to three times a week out there. It’s definitely been on a steady decline over the past 10 to 15 years. I don’t want to make it seem like it’s anybody’s fault or anything because a lot of other courses have the same issue. Hopefully, they put the time and effort into it so people aren’t complaining. I just hope people enjoy it.”

Quinn, a 2014 champion at Gladstone, talked about the home course advantage, noting he thinks the course is in great shape.

“I’ve played it a couple times and the course is in excellent shape,” Quinn said. “I think people will be very happy. I don’t see any real problems. Some years it’s not the best, but this year it’s in really good shape. I look forward to it.”

Pouliot said the course will be played shorter than it was in 2005.

“The course has pretty much stayed the same (since last time),” Pouliot said. “We’ll probably play it shorter than it was when it was here last time. Last time we played it 6,650 yards and this time we’ll play it 6,400 yards. The roughs will be shorter and the point of that is so it’s user friendly and so guys don’t get frustrated. The goal with that is so the rounds are shorter and it should be faster, which makes it more enjoyable.”

The Bluff co-hosted with Gladstone the last time it hosted the tournament. The tournament was conducted at two courses from 1993-2007 to accomodate for larger playing fields before it returned to the one-course format at Escanaba Country Club in 2008.

However, numbers have since dropped.

“Obviously, it’s hard for these guys to play a four-day tournament and to take off work for a four-day tournament,” Pouliot said. “They tried a three-day tournament six to eight years ago. Unfortunately, it only worked for two years and it went back to a four-day tournament.

“It’s a different generation — do they want to spend four days camping with their family or do they want to be golfing? Is it better to be a three-day tournament or a four-day? If I had it my way, we would have had a three-day tournament Friday through Sunday, but the UPGA decides that.”

Another reason Pouliot cited is style of the game. The UPGA tournament is done in a stroke play format.

“Guys are not used to playing their own ball. They play scrambles and best ball,” he said. “It’s not traditional golf and I think we have to get back to traditional golf.”

Argall voiced some frustration about lack of numbers.

“Every single tournament that they have (at the Bluff), participation is declining,” he said. “We only have 72 people in the U.P. tournament … that’s pathetic. There should be at least 100 people. A few years ago when we had it at Gladstone there was 145.

“I think we have seven guys from the Terrace Bluff … that’s pretty bad. Why can’t you get 10 or 20, even? I wish I knew what the answer is. Why aren’t they taking three or four days off of work to come down and play?”

Argall also talked about his mindset going in.

“I’ve been playing all right, just not quite as well as at the start of the year or even a month ago,” he said. “I’ve been working on some things to play better at the Bluff in general. It’s exciting because it starts on Wednesday and each time I go out it gets better and better. It comes down to the four days that you’re playing.

“As far as expectations go, obviously you want to win. It depends on some things, but I’d be pretty happy to shoot 5-under. Even if you can do 1- or 2-under every round you’re doing pretty darn good.”

Quinn’s expectations are relatively the same.

“My goal is always to break 300 through the four days,” he said. “If you happen to get close and get into contention, then that’s fantastic. That’s what we all play for is the opportunity to win. I don’t have a lot of high expectations for myself. I’m 49 years old, although there are guys right around my age that I expect to be in contention.”