NJSGA Amateur Championship Preview

For the first time in 35 years, the NJSGA will play its Amateur Championship in South Jersey. What distinguishes South Jersey from North Jersey is a question that has been debated by New Jerseyans for decades, and we won’t attempt to answer that here. Suffice it to say that Little Mill Country Club, in Marlton, will host the field of 120 amateurs at next week’s 107th NJSGA Amateur Championship, June 3-5.

Little Mill is certainly well known in the competitive circle of South Jersey and Philadelphia area golf. It hosted the South Jersey Men’s and Women’s Amateur Championships last year and will host the Philadelphia PGA Match Play Championship this October. In addition, the Philadelphia Section of the PGA has held its Section Championship at Little Mill three times. The NJSGA is excited to be conducting its first championship there, recognizing Little Mill’s contribution to New Jersey golf in this, its 40th anniversary year.

The 72-hole Amateur Championship will be contested on Little Mill’s Red and White nines. Part of a 27-hole layout, these nines are known as “Devil’s Glen” (front) and “Little Mill” (back) and are carved out of heavily wooded areas with dramatic elevation changes. Playing to approximately 6,800 yards, the championship course features demanding tee shots and five distinctly different par-3’s. As Defending Champion Bill McGuinness, someone who is quite familiar with the course, said, “You need to be straight because of the trees. If you don’t hit it straight, it’s a long day. The strength of the course is driving accuracy.”

Once again, the Amateur field will boast an honor roll of New Jersey’s top amateur golfers. Defending Champion Bill McGuinness of Tavistock will try to retain the E.M. Wild Championship Trophy and add to his list of Amateur titles. McGuinness’ pursuers from Rockaway River last year – Tom Gramigna of Tavistock, Roger Hoit of Baltusrol, and Ron Vannelli of Metuchen – are likely contenders again this year. Vannelli already has captured a Met area major by winning the Met Senior Amateur in early May. McGuinness expects a challenge from his fellow Tavistock golfers – Gramigna, Jamie Slonis, Sean Leonard and Michael Tash.

Defending NJSGA Open Champion and 2007 Player of the Year Brian Komline of High Bridge Hills and recently crowned 2008 Mid-Amateur Champion Michael Stamberger of Plainfield are two other favorites. Michael Deo, two-time major NJSGA champion last year from Montclair, will not be in the field at Little Mill, nor will Montclair compatriot and 2005 Amateur Champion Mark McGowan.

Two past Amateur Champions, Christopher Gold (2006) and Michael Hyland (1998), possess unique advantages as members of the host club. Gold, the reigning club champion at Little Mill, has enjoyed recent success on the college circuit at the University of Maryland. In addition to Hyland, Gold, and McGuinness, two other past Champions join this year’s field – Allan Small of Fairmount (2004) and Lee Richardson of Passaic County (1999).

Qualifying rounds for the Amateur were conducted at Mendham G. & T.C., Jumping Brook C.C. and Linwood C.C. in May. The medalists from these fields, Kevin Purcell of Darlington (73), Doug Cusick of Tavistock (74) and Anthony Martire of Seaview (70) are other names to watch. Other notables in the field include Jay Blumenfeld of Mountain Ridge, Marc Issler of Pine Barrens, who finished T-4 in last year’s NJSGA Open Championship at Plainfield, and Jonathan Hartman of Montclair, who just captured the NJ Prep School State Championship. Who knows, this could be the year a dark horse emerges as champion, perhaps a South Jersey golfer who is not as well known as others in the ranks of NJSGA competitive golf?

The 107th Amateur Championship will be contested over 72 holes during three days of play. Eighteen holes will be played on each of Tuesday, June 3 and Wednesday, June 4; the low 40 scorers (plus ties) will advance to the 36-hole Championship finale on Thursday, June 5. Live scoring will be provided during the final day of play on the NJSGA website, www.njsga.org, and full field results will be available at the conclusion of play each day.

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