Ishpeming’s Mark Clements tied for lead after 1st round of UPGA men’s golf championship

Bruce Crookham of Ishpeming lines up a drive at the 16th tee during the first round of the Upper Peninsula Golf Association men's championship tournament at Terrace Bluff Golf and Country Club in Gladstone on Wednesday. Crookham shot 88. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Austin Hemmingson)

GLADSTONE — Experience and course knowledge already appear to be paying off in the first round of the Upper Peninsula Golf Association men’s championship tournament.

Past champions Mark Clements of Ishpeming and Brian Robinette of Escanaba, along with Rudy Peterson of Gladstone, each shot 2-under par 70 to share the lead after Wednesday’s first round at Terrace Bluff Golf and Country Club.

Three players follow at 72, followed by two at 73, four at 74 and five at 75. Half of the 72-player field came in under 80.

Robinette — a champion in 1995 and ’96 at Highland Golf Club in Hyde — got off to a fast start, including two birdies on the first seven holes. He played consistently throughout the entire round, shooting just one bogey on No. 16.

“My tournament play is not a lot of medal play now,” he said. “This was one of those tournaments where you got to get those old feelings back, and you know you got to hit it and find it and play it again.

Mike Wagner of Little River Country Club in Marinette, Wisconsin, shoots from a bunker at the 16th hole during the first round of the Upper Peninsula Golf Association men's championship tournament on Wednesday at Terrace Bluff Golf and Country Club in Gladstone. Wagner shot 82. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Austin Hemmingson)

“I know this golf course has some nuances. It has a tree, it has some bunkers, so I just tried to keep myself out of trouble, get some pars and get my feet underneath me, and it started to happen.

“A couple putts went in early and then I started getting in a rhythm. It’s sort of been a long time — like 10 years or whatever it’s been — but you start to get the old frame of mind of ‘OK, we’re just playing golf.’ That’s what everyone’s trying to do here.”

Clements — last year’s runner-up at Oak Crest in Norway and a champion at his home course in Wawonowin Country Club in Champion in 1997 and 2001 — started strong, shooting 33 on the front nine before a triple-bogey on 18 hiked his score a bit.

“I started really strong,” he said. “I was 4-under through six, I made the turn at 3-under, then I made a bogey on 10 and an eagle on 12 to get it back to 4-under, then I made another bogey, another birdie, birdied 16 and 17 and then I tripled 18.

“I’m just happy to be in the hunt … I’m one of the old guys (age 46). (It feels good) to just hang around, not lose on the first day and keep in contention.”

Peterson — a member at Terrace Bluff and two-time Division 1 U.P. champion in high school — overcame a slow start to finish the back nine in 34.

“I played pretty well,” he said. “There’s a couple shots I wish I could have back, but overall I was happy with how I played. I just want to keep putting well and keep the ball in play.”

He also acknowledged home course advantage.

“It helps a lot,” he said. “It just helps to know where to hit some of the shots on some of the holes that other people might not know because they don’t play here very often.”

One of the three to shoot even-par 72 was Matt Argall, who was raised at a young age in Ishpeming and is another member at Terrace Bluff and a 2015 UPGA champion at Little River Country Club in Marinette, Wisconsin. The other two 72s were posted by Mark Gauthier of Escanaba and Mike Peterson of the Bluff.

“I shot a 72, and a 1- or 2-under I would have been happy with,” Argall said. “It’s not that I’m happy with it because I played the par-5s at 3-over, but it’s the first day. You get comfortable out there and see what happens the next three days.”

He also talked about what he needs to do to stay in contention.

“I could make a couple more putts,” he said. “I really didn’t miss a lot of greens and I didn’t miss a lot of fairways. The ones I did miss were big penalties, so I guess if I could learn how to hit a draw between tonight and tomorrow, that would be perfect. It’s so small between being 5-under and being even.”

Carter Mason of Negaunee, a golfer at Northern Michigan University, and Mike Peterson checked in at 73; Chad Tirschel, Tom LaVigne, Dylan Gauthier and 2014 champion Joe Quinn came in at 74; and John Kositzky Jr., Jeff McCall, Dave Harris, Mike Solda and Soli Nash each shot 75.

Players were happy with course conditions on the first day, most notably Robinette, who thought Bluff director of golf Tony Pouliot did a great job getting things ready.

“I was excited to see the course setup,” Robinette said. “Terrace Bluff’s layout is a wonderful layout. It’s always going to reward the guys that play good golf. It’s always been that way.

“The course setup was really nice. I liked the way Tony put the tees back a little bit and I was just loving the fact that I was playing my own ball.

“There were 70 guys out here today and we’ve kind of been getting slammed for the fact that we only have 70 golfers, but for me the 70 guys out here want to play their own ball.

“I don’t care if there was 20 guys or 120 guys, I know a lot of the people in this field are players that have some pedigree and can get it around the golf course. It’s a very, very impressive field.”

Tee times were scheduled to run from 8:30 to 11 a.m. again today before the field gets in separated into flights for Friday and Saturday’s final two rounds.