After a two-year stay at Newnan Country Club, the Yamaha Georgia Senior Open moves to Gainesville’s Chattahoochee GC this month (May 13-14), with the tournament’s two most recent winners looking to resume their battle for the top spot among the state’s senior club professionals.
Sonny Skinner and Craig Stevens have been the state’s top senior club pros since turning 50 a few years ago, while remaining among the best players in the Georgia PGA Section.
Stevens and Skinner finished 1-2 in the 2012 Georgia PGA points standings, with Skinner taking first in the Senior Division standings and Stevens placing third after playing a limited schedule.
The two players have gone 1-2 in each of the last two Georgia Senior Opens, with Stevens winning in a runaway in 2011 and Skinner edging Stevens by one shot last year.
The tournament will be part of a busy Spring schedule for Skinner, who competed in both Web.com events in Georgia in late April and early May and has qualified for the 2013 PGA Senior Championship, which will be played in St. Louis the week after the Georgia Senior Open.
This will be the first time Chattahoochee GC has hosted the Georgia Senior Open, but the course should be familiar to a number of the players, as this will be the third straight year the course has hosted a major Georgia PGA event.
Chattahoochee was the site of the 2011 Georgia PGA Match Play Championship and the 2012 Atlanta Open, with a number of players eligible to play in the Georgia Senior Open enjoying top finishes in last year’s Yamaha Atlanta Open.
Veteran Champions Tour player James Mason, a career Georgia PGA member, was one of three players to make it into a playoff after shooting 6-under 138 on the Robert Trent Jones, Sr., design, losing to Seth McCain. Mason, the Georgia PGA Player of the Year in 1997, ’98 and 2000 prior to joining the Champions Tour, says he expects to play at Chattahoochee.
Mason won a recent Georgia PGA Senior Division event in Metter, and played in the Champions Tour event at TPC Sugarloaf, finishing in the middle of the pack.
Stephen Keppler finished one shot out of the Atlanta Open playoff at 139, but is not expected to compete in the Georgia Senior Open due to a conflict with a U.S. Open qualifier at Marietta CC — his home club. Keppler was 3rd in last year’s Georgia Senior Open, two shots behind Skinner.
Stevens tied for 7th in the Atlanta Open, just two shots out of the playoff, with Skinner tying for 14th at 142 along with Danny Elkins, who will also be in the Senior Open field.
Finishing in the top 10 in last year’s Georgia Senior Open were Russ Davis (6th) and Phil Taylor (T7), with both players also among the top five in last year’s Georgia PGA Senior Championship. Stevens won that tournament at Pinetree CC by six shots over Skinner, with Davis tying for 3rd and Taylor 5th along with Keppler and Tommy Brannen, who has also qualified for the PGA Senior Championship.
The Georgia PGA members in the field will be challenged by a strong group of senior amateurs.
Don Marsh was low amateur last year at Newnan CC, taking 4th at 139, three behind Skinner’s winning total. It was Marsh’s first appearance in the top 10 since 2006, when he placed 2nd behind Bill Spannuth at Planterra Ridge. Marsh was also low amateur in ‘04 at the Orchard, taking 4th overall, and in ‘03 at the Georgia Club, tying for 6th.
Bob Royak made his first start in the Georgia Senior Open last year, tying for 10th, and was T7 last year in the Atlanta Open at Chattahoochee GC, just two shots out of the playoff. Royak won the Atlanta Open in 2007 at the Standard Club.
Other amateurs to turn in strong showings in the event in recent years include Mel Mendenhall, Jack Kearney, Larry Clark, 2007 Georgia Senior Open champion Rocky Costa, Jack Hall and Jeff Belk Costa and David Nell, who won at Callaway Gardens in 2008, are the last two amateurs to win the tournament.
Veteran mini-tour player Javier Sanchez won at Callaway Gardens in 2009 and ’10, but has not competed in the event the last two years due to conflicts with tournaments on the Sunbelt Senior Tour. That tour has an event scheduled in metro Atlanta at BridgeMill Athletic Club the same dates as the Georgian Senior Open.
Skinner posted an 8-under 136 total to win last year at Newnan CC, with Stevens 2nd at 137 and Keppler 3rd at 138 following a final round 66. Skinner shot 67-69 and Stevens was right behind at 68-69. The two were tied going to the par-5 finishing hole, with Skinner making birdie to win the duel.
Chattahoochee GC will present a solid test for the players in the Georgia Senior Open field despite a lack of serious length and almost no water in play despite its proximity to Lake Lanier.
The course can play as long as 7115 yards from the tips, but will play in the 6600-6800 range for the tournament, with no par 4s over 420 yards and a pair of par 5s of modest length.
Chattahoochee is a relatively tight, tree-lined layout, with its rolling terrain accounting for much of its challenge. Several holes feature sharp drop-offs with hazard stakes just off fairways, and many of the putting surfaces are also bordered either long or to the side by areas well below their level.
The large, typically excellent greens represent a serious challenge, with enough speed and movement to produce three-putts from long range. Most of the greenside bunkering is along the edges, resulting in some tough-to-reach pin positions, with the bunkers having sufficient depth to make them a real concern.
While the par 4s are on the short side as a group, three of the par 3s are in the 200-yard range, although several of them play significantly downhill.
The course was renovated in 2007, with the greens and bunkers re-built and several back tees added. The nines were reversed to reflect their original order and one hole was removed, replaced by a re-configuration of one hole into two.