Is there home-field advantage in golf?

Is there home-field advantage in golf?

Nearly 20 local players will try to answer that against top-flight fields when Eagle Point Golf Club is host to the Oregon Golf Association men's and women's mid-amateur championships Saturday and Sunday.

Brad Bills is a former Southern Oregon Golf Tournament winner and the reigning Medford city champion who is no stranger to state-level competition. He's part of a strong local contingent and admits, after surveying the field, that any edge would be helpful in the stroke-play event.

"Clearly, most of the good players from around the state will be here," says Bills.

The mid-am is for amateurs at least 25 years old and is one of only two tournaments the OGA stages with handicap restrictions: 10.0 and under for men, 22.4 and under for women. The other is the Oregon Amateur.

There are 133 men and 17 women entered. Tee times are at 7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. both days, and spectators are welcome.

A half-dozen former Southern Oregon men's and junior-senior division winners headline the Rogue Valley entrants. Bills will be paired with last year's SOGT men's victor, Brooks Newsom of Portland, in the first round, and former men's titlists Tommy Smith and Kevin Klabunde are entered, along with former junior-senior winners David Boals Jr. and Greg Miller.

All have more experience at Eagle Point than most of the out-of-area players, which can't hurt their chances.

"Having played the course more than the others guys is obviously helpful," says Bills, "but from what I hear, it's going to be set up very difficult. No matter how well you know it, it's still going to play very tough and long, with hard and fast greens. You have to be hitting the ball straight and putting well."

Essentially, the course this weekend won't be as familiar as some might think. The back tees will be used on every hole for the first time in any tournament, says course superintendent Dave Stephens, making it 7,096 yards. The thick rough will be 3 to 4 inches tall, and the greens will run about 11.5 on the Stimpmeter.

The difficult setup could neutralize local knowledge. So, too, might the fact that OGA events are seldom held in the southern part of the state, so players here might not be as tournament tested as those to the north.

The last OGA event in the Rogue Valley was the men's stroke play championship in 2002. Two years before that, the Oregon Amateur visited. Both were at Eagle Point.

Eric Yaillen, director of communications and member services for the OGA, believes players of the caliber in this tournament won't be bothered playing an unfamiliar course.

"Local knowledge might help in some cases," he says, "but being a not-so-good player myself, I'm constantly amazed at guys like these who can walk onto a course having never seen it before and shoot even par. There are a lot of guys in this tournament who can do it."

Stephens thinks the winning score might go as low as 4 under par. Jeremy Dunkason, Eagle Point general manager and director of golf, doesn't think anyone will break par.

"From all the way back, this is a tough golf course," says Dunkason.

But there are some good players eager to try, chief among them, perhaps, defending champion Denny Taylor of Gladstone. He's competed in the national mid-am championship and has course records — both scores of 61 — at the OGA track in Woodburn and at Pleasant Valley in Clackamas.

He also won the senior division of the state stroke play tournament at Eagle Point five years ago.

"It's a course I have some familiarity with," says Taylor, who also played it this past spring and believes local knowledge is especially handy around the greens when trying to get up and down.

Taylor claimed the mid-am at the OGA course last year with a 36-hole total of 5 under par.

Getting off to a good start and "basically being able to hold it together in the final round" was his recipe for success. He was 3 under the first day.

Other out-of-area players to watch are:

David Jacobsen, the older brother of tour star Peter. David, says Dunkason, was the better player of the two when they were young.

Scott Hval, a former Oregon Amateur champion who leads the OGA men's division rankings with six top-10 finishes in as many events. Carl Johnsen, the current Oregon Am champion, and Brandon Kearney are close behind with four each and will play here.

Chris Maletis, who captured his third senior division title in four years at the highly-regarded Trans-Mississippi Championship in Minnesota last weekend.

Tim Rouillard, who qualified for the U.S. mid-am last year and whose wife, Shannon, coaches the University of Oregon women's team.

Brad Skreen, who was runner-up in the Oregon Amateur last year and won the senior am.

On the women's side, locals Trina Rasmussen and Leslie Gainey are entered.

Top players include Charisse Spada, a two-time Oregon Amateur champion; Pacific Northwest Golf Association Hall of Fame member Marcia Fisher; Sasha Dunlap and Loree McKay.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com