MENOMINEE — For the 12th time overall the first time since 2006, the historic Riverside Golf Club will play host to some of the best golfers the Upper Peninsula and Marinette area has to offer as the 106th Upper Peninsula Golf Association men’s championship tees off today and will go until a winner is crowned Sunday afternoon.
The 72-hole stroke-play tournament will be played from the blue tees and will cover 6,279 yards of beautiful green grass, and with just a couple of areas on the course damaged by flooding that players will have to try and avoid, club pro Matt Topel noted the course is excellent shape and golfers could bring in some low numbers.
“The grounds crew brought in some extra guys for this week to be able to get everything they needed to finish taken care of and the greens and course overall are in beautiful shape because of all the work they put in. Besides the little flooding that we really can’t do anything about, greens, tees and fairways are in great shape and the grounds crew out here does a fantastic job with everything they have to work with,” Topel said. “We tried to set up the golf course to make it a little easier because when you are scoring good you’re having fun, and we want to make sure these guys are having fun out here and hopefully get some low scores this weekend.”
In last year’s UPGA championship at Terrace Bluff in Gladstone, the 71 golfers were a record low in the 105-year history of the tournament, and with the coronavirus outbreak still in full effect, the 106th UGPA’s will now be the new record for least amount of players as just 64 will tee it up.
Knowing that this year was going to be different than any other year the tournament has been held, Topel and his staff’s No. 1 concern heading into this week has been player safety.
With that in mind, all of the touch-points on the golf course have been removed such as rakes in the bunkers, benches and water coolers around the course. In the clubhouse, tables have been spaced out six-feet apart to adhere to social distancing and instead of having a buffet for the banquet on Saturday like usual, players will have boxed dinners brought to their tables. As for the staff, anyone up front will be wearing a mask and gloves to help with protection.
“The banquet on Saturday is the big one where we had to work out how we were going to do it,” Topel said. “It’s unfortunate that there is such a small number of golfers this year, but with that we are well within our capacity to space out and social distance everyone enough.”
Another concern for Topel was the amount of carts available. In today and Friday’s rounds, players can choose one person in their four-some they want to play and ride in a cart with while being matched up with another pair. During the weekend rounds after being put into one of the six flights, golfers will have to either ride with someone they may not know from another city or can request to ride solo, and that is where the issue lays for Topel and the Riverside crew.
“I’m still not entirely sure how the cart situation will look after the first two days,” he said. “I know we have a lot of guys that don’t mind riding with somebody from around the area, but I can’t take a guy from Marquette and pair him with someone from Escanaba and make them ride together in the same cart, so I have to make sure they have their own if they want it. Some guys might just walk if they end up not being paired with someone they feel comfortable with, but then again they might want their own cart too so it really is a guessing game.”
In the field this year are five former champions, with reigning champion Bryce Douglas of Gladstone looking to defend his title against the 2015 champ Matt Argall of Gladstone, 2014’s winner Joe Quinn of Gladstone, the 1995 and 1996 winner Brian Robinette of Escanaba and Mark Clements of Wawonowin Country Club. Clements won in 2001 when the tournament was hosted by North Shore and Riverside. Of the 64 total golfers, 26 of them come from Riverside or Little River Country Club, giving the Marinette/Menominee area a number of chances to keep the hardware around.
“There are quite a few good players from what I’ve heard,” Topel said. “Douglas I believe shot 4-under to win last year so he’s a good golfer and his partner the first two days won a few years back at Little River. Then here at Riverside we have Tim Kramer, Scott Lauerman, Steve Schmidt and guys like that who have the capability of going low. There’s quite a few that could be in the running so it’ll be exciting to see.”
On Saturday during the banquet, Riverside will honor Tom Cox, who devoted a lifetime of education to the game of golf. Cox served as club pro at Little River for two years, giving lessons through NWTC before moving to Florida to help his father run a driving range while his mother was sick, a range he ran for 10-plus years after his father passed away.
Riverside first hosted the UPGA men’s championship in 1915, which was the first of eight times it hosted the event on its own before hooking up with North Shore in 1996 and they split the tournament two more times in 2001 and 2006.