Almost ready to tee off: U.P. Senior Championship to be held at Terrace Bluff Monday and Tuesday

Iron Mountain Daily News photo by Burt Angeli Mark Ray of Bark River tees off in the 15th annual U.P. Senior Championship at Pine Grove Country Club in Iron Mountain, June 18, 2019. Ray is one of four former champions in this year’s Senior Men’s UPGA tournament to be held at Terrace Bluff Golf and Country Club Monday and Tuesday.

GLADSTONE — A year after hosting the Upper Peninsula Golf Association’s men’s tournament, Terrace Bluff Golf and Country Club will play host to the 16th annual U.P. Senior Men’s Championship Monday and Tuesday.

A total of 123 golfers are signed up for 36-hole medal play tournament, including defending champion Mark Ray of the Highland.

“To be honest, I’m really struggling this year,” Ray said in a phone interview Thursday night. “I think the field is wide open. I’m going to defend, obviously, but I’ve got a couple days to try to work out a few kinks because I’ve got a few kinks in my game right now. Just to be honest, that’s what’s going on.”

Other past champions include Scott Saari of Ishpeming Wawonowin (2018), Larry Bratonia of Gladstone (2017) and Jim Wagner of Marinette (2014-16). Also included in this year’s field are past UPGA champions Joe Quinn of Gladstone (2014) and Matt Smith Jr. of Irish Oaks (2004).

The Bluff has 13 of its own members in this year’s field.

“A lot of good talent is coming this way,” Bluff owner and director of golf Tony Pouliot said. “Obviously home field advantage might play a factor in it, so you’re looking at Steve Douglas, Jeff McCall, Mike Peterson … these guys play here all the time so that little open knowledge might give them a little advantage. But when it comes down to it, you gotta make the putts.”

There were 135 golfers in last year’s tourney at Pine Grove in Iron Mountain and 88 the year before at Marquette Golf Club’s Heritage course. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pouliot didn’t really know what to expect for a turnout, but he noted 123 is right around par.

“It seems to be about average,” he said. “With the whole COVID-19 thing we really didn’t know what to expect, because obviously these guys are seniors. We just didn’t know how it was going to pan out, but 123 seems to be average. We’ll run with it.”

Pouliot noted the course will play around 5,900 yards, give or take.

“We expect to set up the course easy, meaning pin placement is easy,” he said. “All the manicuring is done as normal. We don’t let the roughs grow or behind the greens grow, so it’s all normal. We just want to make sure that they’re playing in a reasonable amount of time. The whole idea is to set the course up easy so they can move along.”

Pouliot also mentioned the course is in great shape right now.

“We expect it to play easy with how we set it up, but the course isn’t a short course when it comes to seniors,” he said. “It’s not a long course either; it’s a little more than average when it comes to distance. But at 5,900 yards, these guys are more than capable of shredding this course. If you look at the guys that just turned 50, they’re still hitting at 260 and 270 (yards).

The qualifying round will be held Monday with tee times from 8:30 to 12:45. Players will then be flighted for Tuesday’s championship round, with the championship flight set to tee off sometime after noon.

“Anyone that wants to win it is going to have to own the par-5s, quite obviously,” Ray said. “A lot of them are not that easy and there’s a couple par-4s that are quite challenging. You gotta make hay when you can, and then you just gotta survive some of those holes.

“On Tuesday, No. 13, 14, 15 and 16 is probably where the tournament is going to be won or lost. Everybody says that every time they play a tournament there, so that’s what it’s going to come down to. I think it’s going to be close and I think there’s going to be a lot of guys that are going to be within reach of the lead. I just think those are the holes — you can have some carnage there, or you can separate yourself from the rest of the field on those four holes.”

Ray acknowledged he got the monkey off his back last year when he was finally able to win one.

“I’m 63, so I’ve played a lot of competitive golf,” he said. “It was always the goal to win one. I was close many times and lost in playoffs, so I think it was more of a monkey-off-the-back kind of a deal. I’m very relaxed. The guy who’s playing the best Monday and Tuesday is going to win this thing.

“Do I have a chance at it? I do. But that’s really what it’s going to come down to — someone’s going to have to play well because the field is strong. It’s a very strong field, and there’s a lot of local guys that just turned 50. A lot of them are members at the Bluff, so it’s going to be a very good field this year. There are a lot of guys that are capable.”

A few adjustments had to be made due to COVID-19, including no dinner upstairs Monday night. However, the event is still open to the general public.

“We’ve been going through the practices just like everybody else when it comes to sanitation,” Pouliot said. “The clubhouse inside is still at 50% occupancy. There will be no dinner upstairs on Monday night just because we can’t do it. It’s Gov. (Whitmer’s) orders that there can’t be any more than 50 people in an enclosed area, so what we opted to do is feed them lunch at the turn both days in lieu of having a dinner Monday night. That’s all we can do and that seems to be the trend at these tournaments this summer, that no matter where you go, they’re either giving you a bagged lunch or they’re giving you a lunch at the turn. Then maybe you grab a burger at the end, because nobody’s doing dinners.”

The event was originally supposed to be held in June but was moved back to accommodate more time to plan around the virus. Despite the challenges it has provided, the golfers are just happy to be on the course.

“I don’t think they mind it,” Pouliot said. “I think they all understand that these are crazy times, and we’ll just have to adapt to it and we’ll go with it.”


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