Deciding Upper Peninsula’s best: U.P. Golf Association men’s tourney opens Wednesday in Gladstone

Ishpeming’s Mark Clements blasts out of a trap on the par-3 17th hole last August during the third round of the 104th Upper Peninsula Golf Association Men’s Championships at Oak Crest Golf Course in Norway. Clements, a two-time U.P. men's champion, finished runner-up but 13 strokes behind runaway winner Hunter Eichhorn of Carney. (Iron Mountain Daily News photo by Burt Angeli)

“Those are the five champions that are returning to the field, but there are a lot of strong players that aren’t past champions.” — Tony Pouliot, Terrace Bluff owner-director of golf, on champs returning this year who include Mark Clements of Ishpeming and Terrace Bluff member Matt Argall, a former Ishpeming resident

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GLADSTONE — For the first time since 2005, the Upper Peninsula Golf Association men’s tournament returns to Terrace Bluff Golf and Country Club in Gladstone this week.

The four-day tournament begins Wednesday and runs through Saturday. Tee times are 8:30 to 11 a.m. each day.

Maybe to the delight of the rest of the record-low 72-player field, defending champion Hunter Eichhorn of Carney will not be in this year’s field as he is gone on a golf tour to Scotland with his Marquette University teammates.

Mark Clements putts on the 16th hole during the fourth round of the U.P. Golf Association Men’s Championship last August in Norway. (Iron Mountain Daily News photo by Adam Niemi)

Eichhorn won last year’s tournament at Oak Crest Golf Course in Norway by 13 strokes after shooting a tournament record 267 in his four rounds. He recently won the Wisconsin state amateur title on July 18 at Lawsonia Lakes in Green Lakes.

“Obviously, Hunter’s a dominating performer,” Terrace Bluff owner and director of golf Tony Pouliot said. “With his absence, it opens it up a little bit more. It all depends how the field breaks out.”

Five former champions return this year, including last year’s runner-up Mark Clements of Ishpeming, whose home course is Wawonowin County Club in Champion. The field also includes past champ home course member Matt Argall, who as a young child also lived in Ishpeming. And then there’s past titlists Joe Quinn of Gladstone Golf Course, Brian Robinette of Escanaba Country Club and Jim Markell of Pine Grove Country Club in Iron Mountain.

“Those are the five champions that are returning to the field, but there are a lot of strong players that aren’t past champions,” Pouliot said. “Bryce Douglas and John Kositzky Jr. will be contenders — both those kids play college golf.

“Rudy Peterson is another one to watch for. This is his home course, so he has some knowledge that maybe other people don’t have. The Gauthier brothers — Dylan and Mark — they know what it takes to win here.

Mark Clements hits out of the sand trap on the 16th hole during the fourth round of the U.P. Golf Association Men’s Championship at Oak Crest Golf Course last August in Norway. (Iron Mountain Daily News photo by Adam Niemi)

“Course knowledge gives these players an advantage. If the top 16 guys are equal, guys who have the extra course knowledge will have an advantage.”

Argall, the 2015 champion at Little River Country Club in Marinette, says he looks forward to the tournament despite worrying that the course isn’t in perfect shape.

“It’s nice and it’s convenient,” he said about playing at home. “It should be interesting to see how people like it. The course has kind of been getting a bad name the last few years with conditions, but I’m looking forward to it.

“I’ve been on it quite a bit. I usually play two to three times a week out there. It’s definitely been on a steady decline over the past 10 to 15 years. I don’t want to make it seem like it’s anybody’s fault or anything, because a lot of other courses have the same issue.”

Quinn, a 2014 champion at Gladstone, talked about the home course advantage, noting he thinks the course is in great shape.

Matt Argall of Gladstone follows through on his tee shot on the 15th hole during the third round of the Upper Peninsula Golf Association tournament in Munising in 2004. Argall spent his early years living in Ishpeming. (Journal file photo)

“It’s obviously a big advantage,” he said. “I’ve played that course numerous times, being it’s a local course. I don’t play courses in Iron Mountain and Menominee nearly as much.

“I’ve played it a couple times and the course is in excellent shape. I think people will be very happy. I don’t see any real problems. Some years it’s not the best, but this year it’s in really good shape. I look forward to it.”

Pouliot echoed those sentiments, noting the course will be played shorter than it was in ’05.

“The course is in great shape. It’s mid-summer,” he said. “The course has pretty much stayed the same (since last time). We’ll probably play it shorter than it was when it was here last time. Last time we played it 6,650 yards and this time we’ll play it 6,400 yards. The roughs will be shorter, and the point of that is so it’s user friendly and so guys don’t get frustrated.”

The last time the Bluff hosted the tournament it co-hosted with Gladstone. The tournament was conducted at two courses from 1993-2007 to accomm

odate for larger playing fields before it returned to the one-course format in 2008.

Gladstone’s Joe Quinn pumps his fist after sinking a 15-foot putt for birdie during the 2014 Upper Peninsula Golf Association championship at Gladstone Golf and Country Club, which he won. Quinn will be one of five former champions playing for the men's title at Terrace Bluff Golf and Country Club starting Wednesday. (Escanaba Daily Press file photo)

However, numbers have dropped.

“Obviously, it’s hard for these guys to play a four-day tournament and to take off work for a four-day tournament,” Pouliot said. “They tried a three-day tournament six to eight years ago. Unfortunately, it only worked for two years and it went back to a four-day tournament.

“It’s a different generation — do they want to spend four days camping with their family or do they want to be golfing? Is it better to be a three-day tournament or a four-day? If I had it my way, we would have had a three-day tournament Friday through Sunday, but the UPGA decides that.”

Another reason Pouliot cited is style of the game. The UPGA tournament is done in a stroke play format.

“Guys are not used to playing their own ball. They play scrambles and best ball,” he said. “It’s not traditional golf and I think we have to get back to traditional golf.”

Argall voiced some frustration about lack of numbers.

“Every single tournament that they have (at the Bluff), participation is declining,” he said. “We only have 72 people in the U.P. tournament … that’s pathetic. There should be at least 100 people. A few years ago when we had it at Gladstone there was 145.

“I think we have seven guys from the Terrace Bluff … that’s pretty bad. Why can’t you get 10 or 20, even? I wish I knew what the answer is. Why aren’t they taking three or four days off of work to come down and play?”

Argall also talked about his mindset going in.

“I’ve been playing all right, just not quite as well as at the start of the year or even a month ago,” he said. “I’ve been working on some things to play better at the Bluff in general. It’s exciting because it starts on Wednesday and each time I go out it gets better and better. It comes down to the four days that you’re playing.”