The Georgia PGA and Georgia State Golf Association will meet in the biennial Billy Peters Cup matches Sunday and Monday at the Harbor Club on Lake Oconee, with the GPGA looking for a fifth straight victory in the Ryder Cup-style event.
The Georgia PGA leads the event 23 ½ – 15 ½, with the competition held annually from 1962 to 1987 and biennially since then. Beginning in 2012, it has been played in even years.
After the GSGA team won four straight times between 2003 and ‘09, the Georgia PGA has won the last four straight, by decisive margins in 2011 and ’12 and narrowly in 2014 and’16.
The event consists of best ball and alternate shot matches on Sunday, with singles on Monday. The alternate shot matches were introduced to the format in 2014. Both teams consist of 16 players, at least four of them seniors. Both teams will have at least one eligible senior competing in the non-senior division.
The Georgia PGA team won 17-15 at Champions Retreat in 2014, with Tim Weinhart going 3-0 for the state’s club pros. Weinhart was again a key figure for the Georgia PGA in 2016 at the Legends at Chateau Elan, scoring the winning point in a 16 ½ – 15 ½ victory when he defeated David Noll 2&1, rallying from a 2-down deficit after 12 with four birdies on the next five holes.
Weinhart and Noll have been mainstays on their teams for years, with both squads featuring largely new casts this year. The GSGA has six players who competed in 2016 and seven from the 2014 team, with most of the team’s players making their Peters Cup debuts.
The Georgia PGA has half its team from 2016 back, but only five who competed in 2014. Among the missing for the pros this time are long-time Peters Cup participants Sonny Skinner and Stephen Keppler.
Heading the GPGA team is 2018 Player of the Year Paul Claxton, who won the Georgia PGA Championship and a Section event at Chattahoochee GC this year, along with a victory in the Georgia PGA Senior Championship and a runner-up finish earlier this week in the Section’s qualifier for the national club pro championship. Claxton was a member of the Georgia PGA’s winning team two years ago.
Weinhart, a 9-time Georgia PGA Player of the Year, also returns from the 2016 team along with Kyle Owen, the 2017 Player of the Year and winner of this week’s Georgia PGA Professional Championship. Craig Stevens, a long-time participant in the matches, also returns from the 2016 along with fellow senior Mark Anderson.
Seniors James Mason and Danny Elkins, who were both on the 2014 team, are back in the lineup this year. The Georgia PGA’s other returning players from 2016 are Brian Dixon, Todd Ormsby and Hank Smith.
Among the newcomers to the Georgia PGA squad are recent Match Play champion Justin Martin and Bill Hassell, one of the Section’s qualifiers for the national club pro event along with Claxton and Owen. Also playing in the matches for the first time are Chris Cartwright, Ted Fort, J.P. Griffin and Gary Miller.
The GSGA will again feature a strong group of seniors, with Chris Hall, Jack Hall, Doug Hanzel and Bob Royak all returning from the 2016 team. Royak won the 2018 Georgia Senior Open title in a playoff over Chris Hal, who edged out Hanzel to win the GSGA Senior Championship. Between them, the four have won the last seven GSGA Seniors, with Jack Hall taking this year’s GSGA Senior Match Play and tying for fourth in the State Amateur, an event annually dominated by college golfers.
Jack Hall will play in the non-senior division along with 2017 Georgia Senior Open champion Billy Mitchell, with Rick Cloninger taking the fourth senior spot. Cloninger was one of the Georgia’s’ top amateurs in the late 1990s and early 2000s before moving out of state, recently returning to Georgia.
Noll, who has won the GSGA’s three top events multiple times each, returns from the 2016 team along with the two Halls, Hanzel, Royak and Erik Martin, who won a Georgia PGA tournament at Berkeley Hills in 2017.
The GSGA squad will sport three teams that finished 1-2-3 in the 4-Ball Championship earlier this year. Noll teamed with Mike Nance to win the event, with Martin and Steven Behr taking second and Mitchell and Chris Waters, both of whom played in the Peters Cup in 2014, tying for third. All three duos will play together in Sunday’s matches.
New to this year’s GSGA squad along with Nance and Behr are recent Atlanta Match Play champion Matthew Hayes, Keith Guest, Rusty Mobley, Nathaniel Rau and Nick Cassini, who led Georgia to the 2001 NCAA Championship before playing several years on the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour. Cassini has since regained his amateur status and tied for fourth in this year’s GSGA Mid-Amateur Championship.
As has been the case in the modern history of the event, the Peters Cup is being played on another of the state’s top courses this year. Harbor Club is an outstanding Jay Morrish-Tom Weiskopf design that is currently in exceptional condition, with the greens rolling fast and true and some pesky Bermuda rough off the fairways.
Harbor Club measures 7,050 yards from the tips and is rated at 73.6/138. With a number of vulnerable holes and an approximately equal number on which par will win sometimes in alternate shot and singles, the course is an excellent fit for match play.
Among the highlight holes at Harbor Club are a pair of drivable par 4s (7 and 15), with the seventh very much a risk/reward hole with a tee shot that has to clear a finger of Lake Oconee. The 15th is one of the state’s most interesting par 5s, with a long second shot required to carry a large scrub area to reach the green in two.
Two of the other three par 5s (4 and 8) are reachable in two, with the 11th a three-shotter if played from the tips at over 600 yards. While two of the par 3s (3 and 15) are relatively tame, holes 2 and 17 are definitely not. The second can play as long as 240 yards, with a pair of bunkers making it a real challenge to get to pins on the right side of the angled green.
The 17th measures 180 yards, with the tee shot all carry over the lake, which is also in play right of the green. With bunkers short and long, the hole bears a resemblance to No. 12 at Augusta National, but with a longer club required for the tee shot.
Along with the two short par 4s and three others of modest difficulty between 375 and 390 yards, Harbor Club sports five extremely stout par 4s, all of which measure at least 440.
The 465-yard fifth, with Lake Oconee serving as a backdrop for the approach shot, is one of the most visually appealing holes in the state, with 13 and 16 inland holes that are equally long and demanding. The 18th will likely be a new one to most of the players in the field, with the hole changed markedly several years ago.
The hole now requires both the tee shot and approach to carry a creek that runs the length of the hole, with bunkers on the opposite side of the fairway looming for those who play away from the water.
The other par 4 of note is the short-ish (375) third, which has water down the entire right side of the hole, extending to just a few feet off the putting surface.
With some sizeable greens throughout, Harbor Club will challenge those whose approach shots are less than precise, but the quality of the surfaces will enable those who hit it relatively close to roll in some birdie putts.
First day pairings:
(Best Ball, a.m.): Ormsby-Owen (PGA) vs. Cassini-J. Hall; Dixon-Weinhart (PGA) vs. Hayes-Rau; Griffin-Fort (PGA) vs. Guest-Mobley; Mason-Stevens (PGA) vs. Hanzel-Royak; Anderson-Elkins (PGA) vs. Cloninger-C. Hall; J. Martin-Cartwright (PGA) vs. Behr-E. Martin; Hassell-Miller (PGA) vs. Mitchell-Waters; Claxton-Smith (PGA) vs. Noll-Nance.
(Alternate shot, p.m.): Griffin-Fort vs. Cassini-J. Hall; Ormsby-Owen vs. Guest-Mobley; Dixon-Weinhart vs. Hayes-Rau; Mason-Stevens vs. Hanzel-Royak; Anderson-Elkins vs. Cloninger-C. Hall; J. Martin-Cartwright vs. Mitchell-Waters; Hassell-Miller vs. Behr-E. Martin; Claxton-Smith vs. Noll-Nance.