ESCANABA - There's always a good reason to look into the past while building for the future, and that's what officials in the Upper Peninsula Golf Association did while preparing for this week's men's tournament.
Slow play issues have plagued recent UPGA tournaments, including the last time it was held at Manistique Indian Lake Golf and Country Club in 2004. That's the site of the 99th annual event that begins a four-day run at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Under the direction of co-chairmen Rob Ryan and Bob Sands, and with input from highly-respected grounds superintendent Glenn Rasmussen, the set-up has been toned down for this year's event.
Upper Peninsula Golf Association men’s 2012 champion Jim Markell found the cup on this sand shot from the 11th hole on Aug. 12, 2012 in the 98th annual UPGA Men’s Championships at Pine Grove Country Club in Iron Mountain. The 2013 UPGA Championship begins Thursday and runs through Sunday at Manistique’s Indian Lake Golf and Country Club. (Iron Mountain Daily News file photo by Burt Angeli)
Heinous pin locations on super slick greens, abetted by some tough weather conditions, helped scores skyrocket in 2004 when the field of 212 golfers split their 72 holes at Manistique and Munising Pictured Rocks.
This week's field of 104 players will not face tough playing conditions, although they have no control over the weather, which left the course drenched with several downpours over the past week-plus.
"The course chewed people up," Ryan admitted recently during a discussion of this week's event and the 2004 tourney.
The scores in the 16-man championship flight that final day in 2004 at Indian Lake ranged from the 76 shot by champion Matt Smith of Escanaba - one of just five rounds under 80 - all the way up to 99.
Smith finished at 305 (78-75-76-76) and was four strokes ahead of Tyler Way of Escanaba.
The winners of flights 1-3 finished ahead of 10 members of the championship flight.
Ryan said "we want to ensure that the course plays easier this time. The greens will be normal, everyday speed and the hole locations will be medium."
Noting the course "will not be extremely cut," Ryan said there will be a first cut on the fairways that will allow more room for wayward shots to land and be found quicker.
"We don't need to trick it up. It will be as tough as usual," Ryan said of a course noted for being challenging. "The distance of the course and the speed of the greens will be much easier than 2004."
He said "three-four pins will be hard. We had some bad memories (from 2004) and we don't want them to return.
"There will be a lot of 10-15 handicap guys who come here and we want them to have a fun and enjoyable experience. You can't set it up for the best players."
The white tees (6,015 yards) will be used for all players the first two days and only the top two flights will use the blue tees (6,486 yards) the final two days.
In an effort to improve the playing pace, the fourth hole beside Indian Lake will be reduced by using the forward tee of 403 yards and will be a par-4, instead of the 455-yard par-5 from the white and blue tees.
"We're shooting for 4 1/2-hour rounds," Ryan said. "We hope the pace of play is pretty good. The UPGA told us to address the pace of play any way we could."
Accuracy off the tee is critical on a course that's short and tight.
"This is not a bomber's course," Ryan said. "You cannot take OB penalty strokes - that can ruin your score in a heart beat. It's accuracy more than length here."
Wild approach shots will force players to face nerve-wracking putts.
"You can have very tough first putts if you miss on the wrong side," Ryan said.
Defending champion Jim Markell of Iron Mountain Pine Grove said "you don't need to be long at Manistique. You need to have accuracy and be good around the greens."
There are 26 entrants with handicaps of three or lower, but Ryan said "with Mike in the field, everyone is playing for second. Maybe I shouldn't say that, but he is playing well and he knows the course."