Golf: Revamped State Amateur begins Monday at Soldier Hollow
Midway • There is not a golf tournament in Utah, perhaps even the Western United States, that is more tied to its tradition and history than the Utah State Amateur, which will be contested for the 115th consecutive year this week.
But that doesn't mean the folks who run the tournament, the Utah Golf Association's board of directors, have been against tweaking the format every now and then as amateur golfing talent grows and finding quality venues becomes more and more difficult.
The tournament, which begins Monday yes, Monday on the Silver and Gold courses at Soldier Hollow Golf Club, will see several significant changes this year as 288 of the state's top amateur golfers tee it up. Most notably, after two days of stroke-play qualifying (36 holes), 64 players will make it into match play, rather than the 32, that has been the case for several decades. A sixth day was added to the event to accommodate this format.
Match play begins Wednesday with the opening round. The round of 32 is scheduled for Thursday morning, and the round of 16 is that afternoon.
Friday will feature the quarterfinals in the morning and the semifinals in the afternoon, and the 36-hole championship match will be held Saturday, instead of on Sunday as it has been throughout the tournament's history.
The match-play field was expanded "because the quality of play here is tremendous among our State Amateur competitors," said UGA executive director Bill Walker. "We have a lot of guys who can contend for the championship, easily more than 32, so that's why we went to 64."
As the defending champion, 42-year-old commercial real estate developer Jon Wright of Salt Lake City receives a bye into match play.
"I like the changes. I understand the changes," said Wright, who won the tournament last year at The Country Club of Salt Lake City. "I don't have a problem with any of the changes. I just wish the working man was kind of factored into it a little more. ... I know a lot of guys who might be able to win this but can't take a week off work."
In the news release announcing the changes last January, State Amateur chairman Steve Brinton said the board changed to a Monday start and a Saturday finish "primarily to lessen the burden the tournament imposes on host clubs for their weekend play and to give the tournament a makeup day in case of weather delays."
Next year's State Am will return to Ogden Golf & Country Club for the first time since 1994 as that club celebrates its 100th birthday.
Intended or not, the championship match's change in days might also have opened the tournament to golfers who avoided it in the past for religious reasons. In 2004, former BYU golfer Todd Miller forfeited the championship match at Jeremy Ranch to Clark Rustand because he didn't want to play on Sunday.
Still, officials say that if play is suspended due to weather earlier in the week, they will stage the final match Sunday.
Another substantial rule change is that all competitors who qualify for the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals must walk and not use carts. College golfers who traditionally dominate the tournament are used to walking, playing 36 holes in one day, and even carrying their own clubs. But "older" guys such as Wright could be disadvantaged.
"It will be interesting," he said.
Also interesting is the fact that there will be two defending champions, of sorts. After winning the State Am in 2010 at Alpine Country Club, BYU golfer Joe Parkinson departed on an LDS Church mission for two years to Tampa, Fla., where his mission president was PGA Champions Tour veteran Bruce Summerhays.
"This is my first chance to be able to defend my title, so to speak, since I have been gone," Parkinson said.
Wright, Parkinson and the winner the last time the State Am visited Soldier Hollow (2011), Cedar City's Jeff Evans, are grouped together Monday and Tuesday.
Five other former champions Rustand, Dan Horner, Steve Borget, Todd Barker and Darrin Overson are scheduled to compete, as are three former second-place finishers: Kirk Siddens, Stratton Schulz and John Tagge.
Zac Blair, the 2009 champion who just finished his eligibility at BYU, will not play because he received an exemption to play in the Web.com Tour Utah Championship, which begins Thursday at Willow Creek Country Club.
Utah State Amateur's major changes
• Begins on Monday, rather than Wednesday, and concludes on Saturday (weather permitting) instead of Sunday.
• Sixty-four players will make match-play portion of the tournament, up from 32, requiring an extra day of competition.
• All competitors who qualify for the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals must walk and not use golf carts.