Shootout at Gearhart Mirrors Open Championship

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Forty-three players from seven states converged on the northern coast of Oregon for a spectacular weekend of challenging hickory golf, camaraderie and high spirits at the third annual Gearhart Hickory Classic hosted by Northwest Hickory Players.

The event unofficially began on Friday afternoon, July 15 as sixteen players participated in the club’s “superintendent’s revenge;” a mix of vintage and modern enthusiasts organized by the long-time pro at Gearhart Golf Links, Jason Bangild. Players teed off from “the stones” playing at a 6,501 yards, with challenging hole locations and a scramble format – all part of a fund raiser to support the local community. Mandatory left-handed tee shots, a blindfolded drive, and one par three with six hole choices characterized the nature of the affair. While not necessarily a relevant preview for the Classic, it proved to be an enjoyable means to support the professional staff at the course who have been so hospitable and welcoming to Northwest Hickory Players for so many years. Within a field of 88 players, the four groups of hickory golfers earned praise and accolades for the longest putt on hole number five (Team Hudson) and “k.p. in two” (or, green in regulation) on the 330-yard opening hole (Jim von Lossow) at which the cup was cut on the downslope of the front left edge. After the Revenge, an evening social hour for the hickory players was hosted at a house near the 14th hole.

Players rose on Saturday morning to catch the closing holes of The Open Championship with Mickelson leading a strong field at Troon, and made their way to the course for a robust and high-yielding club swap, followed by a group photo and an opening competitive round under overcast, yet nearly ideal conditions for links golf. In four divisions, including a newly-initiated super-senior division, the competition was strong and well balanced. Open Division players competed at a distance of 6,176 yards, the furthest distance ever for this event, and perhaps a bit too far (perhaps a reaction to the creation of the additional division?) Seniors played at 5,741, women played from 5,100 yards.

Mirroring events on the coast of Scotland, the day ended with two players in the lead – Washington state’s Jim von Lossow and Virginia’s Deal Hudson – separated by just one stroke. Open, Senior, and Super Senior divisions all averaged scores in the 90s on day one (91, 93, 98 respectively), a reflection of the quick putting surfaces and enduring challenges of this 1890s seaside layout. Contestants gathered at a nearby restaurant for a group dinner and mild ribbing following the round.

Players awoke to find one of the greatest head-to-head matches evolving in the conclusion of the 145th Open Championship, but were pulled away from the duel in order to reach the outcome of their own Classic. Under brilliant sunshine and low 60s on the thermometer, the field battled on Day Two, with 82 percent of the Open Division contestants beating their prior day’s totals. Unexpectedly, the same percentage of the Senior players post higher totals compared with the opening round. Northern Californian Steve Henneuse shone with the low round of the tournament, a gross score of 76.

In the end, similar to events across the pond, but with three players in contention, the outcome was not decided until the final hole. Jim von Lossow, defending champion, prevailed over Steve Henneuse and Deal Hudson. Henneuse shot the low tournament round –76 – and Hudson carded a 37 on the inward 9. Those scores took the battle to the 18th hole. Open division net winner was Deal Hudson, with Kit Ledbetter winning the Senior Division and K.C. Harrison taking the senior net medal. Matt Nelson won the Super Senior and Donna Richmond led the Women’s division. Individual medals were awarded to the top three in each division.

Tournament director Rob Ahlschwede shared the good news that the 2017 U.S. Hickory Open will be played on the West Coast for the first time next July, likely causing the Classic to be either postponed or deferred one year in support of the SoHG’s efforts to cater to a broader segment of the hickory golfing community in the United States.

A handsome perpetual trophy was presented, courtesy of organization founders Rob Birman and Rob Ahlschwede, which will be proudly displayed in the Gearhart pro shop, year-round. Players were unanimous in their praise for the course, accommodations and competitive play at the event. Northwest Hickory Players looks forward to increasing participation in the years ahead!

Click here to see all the great Gearhart photos taken by Don Frank.

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Waiting for the starter’s call at the 2016 Gearhart Hickory Classic.