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City, SOGC tourneys to begin

A 90th birthday celebration is about to unfold, and the old-timer is holding up quite well.

The championship golf season in the region is underway, first with the Rogue Valley Stroke Play Championships Saturday and Sunday at Centennial Golf Club, then with the venerable Southern Oregon Golf Championships next week at Rogue Valley Country Club.

The two tournaments come on the heels of club championships at most courses and signal the end of the competitive season in many quarters.

The 90th edition of the SOGC, the largest single-site match-play tournament in the country, begins Tuesday, with qualifying for local men. Out-of-town players and women qualify on Wednesday. Match play begins Thursday and continues through Labor Day, when championships in all divisions will be held.

There won’t be a particularly big birthday celebration, said head professional Tracy Snyder. That will come in another decade.

But the tournament has added a number of social activities for tournament-goers to get involved with around their play, including bocce ball, ping pong and poker tournaments. Nights on the Range, a concept similar to Topgolf, will also occur.

“We’ve got more volunteers than I feel like we’ve ever had,” he said. “We’ve got more going on on the social side than we’ve ever had. I think it’s going to be great.”

The tournament’s beginnings — in October 1929 — were humble.

It was billed as the championship of Southern Oregon. Invitations were sent to golf clubs throughout the region, and about 100 players, roughly split between locals and non-locals, were expected. Rain, however, shrunk the field.

Bob Hammond Jr. was the first champion at what was then Rogue Valley Golf Club of Medford. He defeated Earl Tumy with a par on the 19th hole of their scheduled 18-hole match. Tumy rallied from 2 down with two holes left to force an extra hole.

A Mail Tribune article called it “the most thrilling finish ever seen in a local golf tournament.”

The paper also said, on Oct. 6, 1929, “It is hoped to make this event an annual feature.”

So far, so good.

This year, there will be a field of 392 players in eight divisions, and all of last year’s champions return.

Ashland’s Matt Hedges captured the marquee title, winning the men’s regular division with a resounding, 10-and-9 victory over Mike Barry in the 36-hole final. Barry was seeking his fifth crown in the division, which would have left him one behind Eddie Simmons for the all-time lead.

Barry isn’t entered this year, but two other former champions will join Hedges.

Brooks Newsom, who last played in 2013, is back and going after a fourth men’s regular title. He won in 1998, 2004 and ‘06.

Chris Polski triumphed in 2015 and also returns.

There are nearly 40 players in the 80-strong men’s regular with single-digit handicaps, said Snyder.

“I would say it’s more open than it has been,” said Snyder.

In other divisions, there will be 80 in the men’s junior-senior, 64 in the men’s senior, 80 in the men’s super senior, 24 in the men’s legends, 24 in the women’s, 32 in the senior women’s and eight in the professional.

The women’s division doesn’t have the firepower it did a year ago. Trina Jones, who won her second championship last year, and 2013 winner Terry Levis are back, but other recent champions are missing.

One who is back after a hiatus of several years is Nettie Morrison, the 2004 winner.

Other returning men’s champions are Steve Taormino (junior-senior); Kevin Klabunde (senior), who is moving up to the super-senior division; Dave Orr (super senior) and George Mack Sr. (legendary).

Taormino has captured four of the past five junior-senior titles. Mack has an SOGC-record 14 championships and has claimed them in every division. Klabunde is going for his 10th overall title.

In addition to Jones, Marla Parmele returns in the women’s senior.

Kevin Murphy captured the inaugural professional division last year, beating Joey Walker, 2 and 1. They return and will be joined by Ed Fisher, Noah Horstman, Chris Daggitt, Jeff Ott, Andy Secret and Jessica Young, who was runner-up in the women’s in 2018.

Before teeing it up in the SOGC, Daggitt, the head professional at Centennial, will conduct the Rogue Valley Stroke Play Championships, otherwise known as the city championships.

The field of about 130 players does not include Barry, who captured his second men’s open title last year with an even-par 144. He beat out Mark Wilson Jr. and Taylor Klemp, who were five strokes back, and who are returning.

The favorite in the men’s division is Kevin Geniza, a University of Oregon player from Corvallis.

Daggitt isn’t sure what lured Geniza.

“Part of it might be he played here quite a bit as a junior,” said Daggitt, referring to Oregon Golf Association and American Junior Golf Association tournaments. “He did well in those, so it might be an end-of-the-summer thing where he likes the golf course. I’m not sure who told him about it or how he found out, but we’re glad to have him. I’d love to see it be a trend, get more and more good players.”

Other college players are coming from Oregon Tech and Southwestern Oregon Community College.

Klabunde won the men’s senior, but is playing this year in the super senior, where defending champion Don Sever returns.

Young captured the women’s title, but has since turned pro and isn’t eligible.

Even without Klabunde, the men’s senior division is particularly strong, said Daggitt.

Brad Bills, who lost by a stroke to Klabunde in 2018, is back, as is Kelly Rasmussen, the three-time club champion following an 8-under 136 with rounds of 69 and 67 two weeks ago.

“You’ve got a lot of good seniors,” said Daggitt. “I think it’s the most complete division.”

Among other senior contenders are Glen Clark, Mark Wilson Sr., Marty Morlan, John Mansfield, Dan Keck and Dave Schoenmann.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com

MT FILE PHOTOMatt Hedges sinks a putt during the final round of the Southern Oregon Golf Championships last year. Hedges won his first men’s regular division crown and will be back to defend when play begins next week.