State Amateur back at The Country Club for first time since 1975
The 114th Utah State Amateur golf tournament, which begins Wednesday, could have easily been lost in the shuffle this month, what with the state playing host to the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship and the Web.com Tour's Utah Championship last week.
But this State Am is special, former champions such as Zac Blair, Jeff Evans and Dan Horner say.
The oldest continuously held tournament in the world, as the State Am bills itself, is finally back at The Country Club of Salt Lake City, returning to its birthplace for the first time in 37 years.
"That alone makes this one a can't-miss tournament," said Blair, the 2009 champion at Valley View who missed the last two State Ams to play in prestigious, out-of-state tournaments. "It's cool that people who ordinarily don't get a chance to play here will get that opportunity. It's neat that the members are willing to share it with us this week. I know a lot of people are really appreciative of that."
The Country Club hosted the first State Am in 1899 at Utah's first golf course, Gilmer Park, and then from 1900-1919 when what is now Forest Dale Golf Course was known as The Country Club. This will be the 19th time the current facility, which opened in 1921, hosts the State Am; Don Branca won it here in 1975, noteworthy at the time because his father, Tee, was the head pro here for 50 years.
Don Branca's brother, Ron, is now the head pro and Ron's son, Mike, is in the field, having been given some time away from his job with the Utah Golf Association, which runs the event.
"Can't wait," Mike Branca said.
Why has it taken so long for the State Am to get back to The Country Club?
Tournament chairman Steve Brinton, who is on The Country Club's Board of Directors and is also on the UGA Board, will play in the tournament as the host club's exemption. Along with former UGA board member Dick Wood and others, Brinton has pushed for years to get the club's board to approve giving up their course for a week to get the venerable tournament back on arguably the grandest course in Utah.
They finally succeeded.
About six Country Club members are in the tournament, and club champion Jon Wright, an ex-pro and former University of Utah golfer, is seen by many as a title contender.
"Jon Wright is a great player, and this is his home course," said Horner, the 2008 champ at Soldier Hollow. "Wouldn't want to [face] him [in match play]."
The favorite, though, has to be Blair, who won the first five UGA tournaments of the year and his first-round match at the Publinks last week.
Cedar City's Evans, who defeated Vernal's Stratton Schultz 8 and 7 in last year's final, could also make another run, and he's already in match play, an honor that goes to the defending champ.
"People down in Cedar, especially my dad [Cedar Ridge head pro John Evans] love having that trophy in the pro shop for a year," Jeff Evans said.
Rhett Rasmussen, the 14-year-old golfer from Draper who won the Junior World Golf Championship for his age division in San Diego last week, qualified for the State Am but will play in the U.S. Junior Amateur in New Hampshire this week.
114th Utah State Amateur
P At The Country Club (Salt Lake City)
Wednesday • First round of stroke-play qualifying
Thursday • Second round of stroke-play qualifying; low 31 players and defending champion Jeff Evans advance to match play
Friday • Match-play begins with Round of 32 and Round of 16 matches
Saturday • Match-play quarterfinals and semifinals
Sunday • Championship match (36 holes)