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Stonebridge offers a challenge to all types of golfers in State Am

The 111th New Hampshire Golf Association State Amateur Championship will tee off this morning at Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown. And the 138 entrants won’t want to waste any time trying to get ahead of the field.

“You want to get up on the front nine and then just try and maintain on the back nine,” Stronebridge Head Pro Ken Hamel said. “I think you can make two or three birdies on the front side pretty easy. Then the back side gets tough.”

This will be the first time Stonebridge has hosted the State Am. The course was built in 1987 and measures 6,808 yards from the championship tees with a 72.9 rating and 6,388 yards from the regulation tees with a 71.0 rating. The NHGA will be in charge of tee and pin placement for the week.

Hitting for length will help on any course, but hitting it a mile isn’t a requirement for success at Stonebridge.

“It’s a good accuracy course,” said Loudon’s Bob Landry, who reached the Round of 16 at last year’s State Am. “You have to hit some wedges on some holes, which I like, that’s my strength. Of course, some of the guys that can hit it long will be hitting irons when I’m still hitting driver, but it will come down to making some putts and hitting some good irons.”

“I’m not sure it favors any type of players,” Hamel said. “The front nine is pretty wide open, so longer players can find a little advantage there, but you have to be really straight on the back, so I think it evens out, honestly. I’m not sure there’s an advantage for anybody.”

Like Landry said, putting will be at a premium this week, but it won’t be easy. Like most greens around the state, the ones at Stonebridge took a beating during the long, cold and snowy winter. Hamel said there was 12 inches of ice on the greens and they still haven’t fully recovered, despite all the work the grounds crew has been doing, which included re-sodding three of the greens.

“The course is in beautiful shape except the greens have not come all the way back and aren’t up to the high standards we usually have,” said Hamel, who has also been a head pro at Duston Country Club and Crotched Mountain Golf Club & Resort and coached the Hopkinton High golf team. “The greens are going to be fine, just not perfect.”

The field features many familiar golfing names from around the state, including the last four State Am winners – defending champion Michael Martel, Joe Leavitt (2012), Jim Cilley (2011) and Nick MacDonald (2010). Martel, who plays out of Crotched Mountain, will start the tournament in a group with MacDonald (Hanover Country Club) and Craig Steckowych, the 1990 and 1998 State Am champ who plays out of Portsmouth Country Club, to start the tournament. While Leavitt (Atkinson Resort & Country Club) and Cilley (Pembroke Pines Country Club) will be playing with Phil Pleat (Nashua Country Club), who won the tournament in 1981 and 1997.

If the past is any indicator, the 21-year-old Martel will have a tough time defending his title. No golfer has won back-to-back State Am crowns since Concord’s Bob Mielcarz, the nine-time champ, did it in 1995 and 1996. It may even be tough for the other former champs to win a second title. The last 11 champions have been first-time winners.

The tournament begins with 36 holes of stroke play today and tomorrow. After that, the field is cut to 64, seeded and paired off for match play starting on Wednesday. Saturday’s final will be scheduled for 36 holes. It needed almost all of that last year when Martel came from behind to beat Chris Rivard (Candia Woods Golf Links), 2 and 1, on the 35th hole.

There is the potential for late drama at Stonebridge, where Nos. 17 and 18 are both difficult. The 17th is a par-5 that can play as long as 551 yards with bunkers on the right side of the fairway and more bunkers just to the left of the green, which is tucked into a small dogleg right at the very end of the hole. And the 18th is a par-4 dogleg left with water in front of the green.

After the state’s top amateurs are done testing themselves at Stonebridge, the club will host the LPGA Symetra Tour New England Charity Classic Aug. 8-10. The Symetra Tour had come to Concord’s Beaver Meadow for the past nine years, but moved to Goffstown this year.

“It’s a big summer for us,” Hamel said.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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