GLADSTONE - The tournament numbers continue to dwindle, though the quality of the premier golf tournament in the Upper Peninsula is seemingly as strong as ever.
At last year's UPGA at Indian River, the UPGA field hovered just above the century mark. This year, the number has increased slightly to 128, which will come out to eight flights of 16 once day three of the tournament rolls around. It's a far cry from the glory days of the U.P. men's golf tournaments of the 90's when a draw of nearly 400 was not uncommon.
Just about everyone has a theory when it comes to an explanation for the trend of fewer numbers, most of it speculation but there's likely some nuggets of truth as well.
Tournament co-director Rick Ebbesen suggested moving the event later in the week might have something to do with it.
"I've done three tournaments at Gladstone and this is by far the smallest. Everyone has an idea why there's fewer participants. Mine is, we moved the event from running Tuesday-Thursday to Thursday-Sunday," Ebbeson said. "We were thinking at the time, that we would get more people involved but I firmly believe just the opposite has happened. People don't want to give up their weekend, that's just my opinion.'
Bob Davision, who is also co-directing the tournament says the week placement might have something do with it, but the root of the matter goes deeper and is more troubling.
"If you look at the membership of all the courses in the Upper Peninsula, every single one of them is trying to find ways to bring in new people, because memberships are old," Davision said. "Ours is no different. The young families are not golfing anymore. They have too much going on with their kids. It's basketball, softball, baseball and it's year-round now. There's not enough time to play golf."
There's additional speculation that Gladstone Golf Club inherently turns off some golfers due to the non-asthetic qualities of the course, as it tailors to a specific type of golfer.
"It's a shot-makers course, which I really like," said Brian Robinette of Escanaba. "It takes the driver out of your hand a little bit."
Jim Markell of Iron Mountain is another who enjoys the type of game Gladstone provides.
"My wife and I have played in a few of the couples events at Gladstone and it made me want to go back there for the U.P.'s because it fits my abilities and skills," Markell said. "It's almost similar to Pine Grove. There's a lot of decisions on shot-making and play-ups on that course, just like at Pine Grove."
Scott Lancour of Escanaba acknowledged that the course doesn't really suit his game.
"The members there will have a huge advantage," Lancour said. "It's a tigheter course, you need to know where to hit it and you won't use your driver much. I've played it a half-dozen times this year to try and become friends with it, but Gladstone doesn't suit my game very well."
Despite the field being on the smaller side this year, both tournament organizers are optimistic of the quality of golfer that will be competing this weekend.
"Roughly half the field plays with a handicap of single digits," said Ebbeson. "It's going to be a strong field, and tough to make the championship flight, which should make for a good tournament."
One of the frontrunners heading into the tournament, Joe Quinn agreed with that sentiment.
"I think it's a strong field. I was told there's 60 players with a single-digit handicap. That's surprising," Quinn said. "The championship flight should be interesting; I don't see anyone running away with it. It's a hard course to shoot a good number on, 67 is a heck of a score and I don't see anyone doing that for a number of days."
The Upper Peninsula Golf Association Tournament begins its 100th year, Thursday at Gladstone Golf Club.