Golfers flock to Portsmouth CC for start of New Hampshire Amateur Championship

  • Concord Country Club’s Fletcher Sokul watches a shot during last year’s New Hampshire Amateur Championship in Hanover. RICH MIYARA file photo / NH Sports Photography

  • Matt Paradis watches his putt role toward the fifth hole during Day 3 of the 115th New Hampshire Amateur Championship at Hanover Country Club on July 10, 2018. RICH MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

  • Belmont’s Jim Cilley blasts out of the bunker on No. 18 on his way to winning his Round of 32 match during last year’s New Hampshire Amateur Championship at Hanover Country Club. RICH MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

Monitor staff
Published: 7/7/2019 10:15:07 PM

It’s the only course in the state architected by the legendary Robert Trent Jones Sr. It sits on the picturesque Great Bay, sprawling over 7,100 yards in the Seacoast Region. And come Monday, it will play host to the 116th New Hampshire Amateur Golf Championship.

A field of 156 of New Hampshire’s top amateurs will flock to Portsmouth Country Club this week for the opening of one of the Granite State’s summer gems.

It all starts with a two-day stroke play qualifying Monday and Tuesday before the top 64 players move on to match play from Wednesday-Friday, all leading up to Saturday’s 36-hole final match that will crown a new champion.

“It’s a good golf course that definitely rewards good golf shots. There’s nothing tricky about Portsmouth Country Club,” said Bill Andrews, who’s in his 19th year as the head pro at Portsmouth. “If you hit it where you’re supposed to, the greens are very fair, very true. … On the opposite side, there’s plenty of opportunity to get yourself in trouble out there.”

Portsmouth is hosting the State Am for the first time since 2003 when Austin Eaton III claimed the title. It’s expected to offer a welcomed challenge to a field that’s as wide open as it’s been in years.

While there are seven past State Am champs teeing it up this week, including Portsmouth CC’s own Craig Steckowych, as well as Matt Burroughs and Danny Arvanitis of Derryfield CC, Phil Pleat of Nashua CC, Jim Cilley out of Ridgewood CC, Mike Flynn of Cochecho CC and Jared Lamothe of Passaconaway, there are some notable names missing.

Defending champion and Southern New Hampshire University graduate Matt Paradis is one of them, as is last year’s runner-up Pat Pelletier and 2017 champion Mike Martel.

“I think it’s going to be a pretty special week. I don’t know if it will be special for me, but I think the course is really, really good right now and I think the field is pretty wide open because of certain factors,” said Cilley, who won it all at Nashua CC in 2011.

“We haven’t had a really big course that’s played this firm and fast in a long time. I can’t remember the last time we’ve had (a State Am) that will play as fast as this one will. So I think it’s going to open it up and identify the best players, no doubt about it.” 

Both Cilley and Andrews described the course as “straightforward” – one that can be had with the right approach, and can be the source of anguish with even the slightest of missteps.

Eight holes border the Great Bay, leaving potential hazards around every corner, and the course only grows more difficult as players make the turn for the back nine.

The 516-yard fourth hole forces players to carry their tee shots over the water, punishing those who attempt to shorten the par-5 without applying the right yardage to their drives. The 13th hole features water 20-30 feet to the left of the pin of the par-3, while No. 15 requires another drive over the water, and No. 14, considered the signature hole, is a 525-yard par-5 with more water coming in to play from the tee and around the green.

“When you’re in a competition like the State Am and you’re teeing off over the water, it’s intimidating,” Andrews said. “I don’t care how long these guys have been playing or how many State Ams they’ve played in, there won’t be a player that stands on the tee that isn’t going to be thinking about going in the water.”

The wind off the Great Bay only adds more to think about. 

“The wind is obviously something that you have to take into consideration. Some holes will play drastically different from day to day,” Cilley said. “Some holes will be scoring holes when the wind is correct. And when it’s not, par will be a good score.” 

While Cilley is hoping to make a run at his second title, there will be plenty of locals shooting for their first State Am crown.

That list includes Canterbury Woods CC’s Garret Olivar, Jake Castricone and Travis Banga; Eight players out of Concord Country Club in Brennan Hughes, former Bow High standout Doug Champagne, Fletcher Sokul (quarterfinalist last year), Grayson Goulet, Jim Cardoso, Ryan Waring, Will McLaughlin and William Hartigan; Laconia CC’s Bill Everett, Ethan Emerson, Evan Rollins, Mike Uhlman and Tommy Dowell.; And the Pembroke Pines trio of Joshua Lacasse, Ricky Bergevin and Troy Demers.

“It’s a good, strong group of guys,” Cilley said. “I’d say there’s probably about 30 or 40 that by the end of the week could be contenders to win it.”

(Jay McAree can be reached at 369-3371, jmcaree@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JayMcAree.)



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