IRON MOUNTAIN - Pine Grove Country Club's pro and top player are optimistic this week's U.P. champion will finish the four-round tournament under par.
The 98th annual U.P. Golf Association Men's Championships tees off today and runs through Sunday at par-72 Pine Grove. The 192-man field will be flighted into 12 groups of 16 after Friday's round.
Susie Fox, Pine Grove professional and a former U.P. ladies champion, figured five to eight-under for the eventual champion. Scott Sanders, winner of the past two Pine Grove men's club titles, "had a feeling" at one to four under par for the 2012 king.
"This golf course can be tricked up and I know the last day is going to be tough," Sanders said.
Eight former champions are in the tourney field including Marquette's Scott Erickson, the last man to win a U.P. title where Pine Grove was the lone tourney site. Pine Grove and Norway's Oak Crest Golf Course have shared past U.P. tourneys.
In 1990, Erickson shot a one-over 73 on the third day to claim a four-shot lead at Pine Grove. He finished at 11-over 299 and a three-stroke winner over Mike Thomsen of Menominee.
"My goal was to hit under 300 and this came on the toughest course in the U.P.," Erickson said after the tournament.
U.P. champions from three other Pine Grove tournaments also failed to shoot under 288.
Sy Clements of Ishpeming won the 1980 title with 303; Larry Tiziani of Marquette repeated in 1972 with 301, and Dave Confrey of Houghton prevailed in 1967 with 296.
"Pine Grove is still one of the best challenges in the Upper Peninsula," Fox noted. "You can definitely tell it was built in 1902 by a lot of the architecture of the original nine holes."
Pine Grove expanded to 18 holes in the 1960s.
Fox and Sanders offered different holes when asked to name one that could cause concern. Fox mentioned the par-4 375-yard fourth hole.
"Number four always jumps up and bites you just because it's a long narrow chute for the tee shot and a very challenging green to putt," she said. "That's probably the toughest par-4 we have."
Sanders suggested the par-3 eighth hole, which can play between 220 and 245 yards.
"That's a tough one to par when you're trying not to make a mistake," he said. "I'd say that's one of the toughest."