The City of Aiken Amateur Golf Championship will be played for the fifth time when the golfers take on Aiken Golf Club on Sept. 6 and 7, and organizers are pleased with how far the tournament has come.
Course owner Jim McNair Jr. said that the field, which is expected to include more than 100 golfers, has increased in quality with each year’s tournament.
“The strength of the field has improved every year, and I think the most gratifying part of hosting the tournament every year ... it gives us a chance to bring together amateurs with low handicaps and high handicaps,” he said.
“It’s not just to crown the best low-handicapper. We have a lot of different flights.”
Three-time champion Patrick Cunning is expected to be among that top flight. Cunning won last year’s event on the second playoff hole after posting a 61 in the second and final round.
McNair said that Cunning, who is usually a longer hitter off the tee, dials his power back for the 6,048-yard course, opting instead to play for the ideal position on each hole.
“He really takes the golf course apart,” McNair said.
Golf shop manager Lorraine Morgan, whom McNair credits for being instrumental in bringing the tournament to fruition, said that players aren’t deterred by Cunning’s near monopoly on the championship. Instead, the Aiken Golf Club members she’s talked to and seen playing are improving their game, hoping to join Cunning and Brian Quackenbush as tournament champions.
“I think that the players that are in the open division welcome the challenge,” she said. “It should be quite an amazing competition.”
In addition to the men’s flights, the tournament has divisions for women, junior boys, seniors and super seniors, with the latter being won by Dick Korzen all four years. Morgan said that organizers were hopeful that the top players from other clubs in each division would sign up to play this year.
“We’d like to see all the club champions come out and play,” she said. “If you should win it, your name will be in history.”
For the $80 entry fee, players will receive a practice round during the week leading up to the event, as well as the two competitive rounds. In addition, participants will take part in the Travinia Cup Putting Championship, sponsored and catered by the namesake Italian restaurant, on Sept. 5. All food and beverages are included in the entry fee.
“We’re very proud that we’ve kept the entry fee at the same level it was the first year,” McNair said.
At the tournament’s inception, the intent was that it would eventually rotate to other courses around town. That hasn’t happened, though.
Both McNair and Morgan said that the players involved – and even members of City Council, according to McNair – requested that the tournament stay at Aiken Golf Club because of the quality of the event and the club’s historic role in the city.
“That was the initial plot,” McNair said of holding the event elsewhere. “After the success of the first two years, it was pretty much decided that the championship, because of the history of our golf club ... that they wanted the tournament to stay here.”
That doesn’t mean the discussion hasn’t continued, particularly since McNair purchased Cedar Creek Golf Club in 2012. While McNair said that Cedar Creek was in a transition phase with “a major renovation” looming in the next two or three years, he and Morgan noted that the more modern course, which can play as long as 7,200 yards, would provide a different type of challenge.
“That would offer you the longer course, and I think he’d like to, eventually,” Morgan said. “The use of the range facility out there would be a big plus.”
McNair also noted the facilities at Cedar Creek as a positive and added that the event could even include a round each at the two clubs, which would require the champion to find success on two very distinct layouts.
For now, though, Aiken Golf Club makes the most sense for the event, according to McNair. Several of the other courses host other tournaments over the summer, like the Palmetto Amateur at Palmetto Golf Club, while Aiken Golf Club’s staff has been able to prepare the course with the City Amateur as the “premiere event” in mind.
According to Morgan, the crew at the “shot-maker’s golf course” has done just that.
“It is in really great shape and fast,” she said. “It’s just begging for the players to come out and play.”
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.
At a glance
WHAT: City of Aiken Amateur Golf Championship
WHEN: Sept. 5-7
WHERE: Aiken Golf Club
COST: $80 entry fee includes golf, practice round and putting championship with dinner/drinks
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call Aiken Golf Club at 803-649-6029
Staff photo by Noah Feit ¬ Ron Schroeder caught fire on th back nine during the final round of the City of Aiken Amateur Championship at The Aiken Golf Club, finishing runner up to Patrick Cunning in a sudden-death playoff.×
Staff photo by Noah Feit ¬ Patrick Cunning, right, is presented with the champions trophy by Aiken Mayor fred Cavanaugh after winning the City of Aiken Amateur Championship at The Aiken Golf Club. Cunning shot 72-61–133 and won on the second hold of a sudden-death playoff.×