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HEISER: York County Amateur will provide tough test

Steve Heiser
  • Royal Manchester Golf Links will play host to the York County Amateur this weekend.
  • A total of 58 golfers are entered. Axel Hartman is the defending champion.
  • Royal Manchester is known for firm, fast greens and thick, penal rough.

Firm, fast greens and thick, penal rough, with a winning score expected to hover around even par.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

No, we're not talking about the U.S. Open.

We are, however, talking about York County's most prestigious amateur golf championship.

The York County Amateur is set for this weekend at Royal Manchester Golf Links.

The course tucked in northeastern York County by the banks of the Susquehanna River will provide nearly 60 of this area's best amateurs with a severe and exacting test.

Royal Manchester is York County's newest golf course, having opened in 2010. Since that time, it has played host to numerous big-time events, including several York Opens. This weekend, however, will mark the first time the track will hold the York County Amateur.

The 58 golfers who are expected to tee it up for the first round on Saturday morning better bring their “A” game.

The links-style layout features very few trees and only two water hazards, but it's far from defenseless.

Remarkable rebound: Royal Manchester was forced to close just last summer when a fungicide infected its large, and sometimes undulating greens, causing an estimated 90 percent loss of turf on the bent-grass surfaces.

Thanks to great work by Northeastern High School graduate Jesse Hartman, the course superintendent, the greens have enjoyed a remarkable rebound. They are now putting very true and very fast.

Northeastern grad Jesse Hartman heals hometown course

In fact, Dave Bennett, the executive director of the York County Amateur Golf Association, which runs the event, said Royal Manchester has “the top greens in York County.”

Bennett may be a bit biased, since he's a member at Royal Manchester, but there's no doubt the greens roll beautifully. Bennett expects the greens to run 11-11½ on the stimp meter for this weekend's event.

That's extremely slick, folks. In comparison, Bennett said the average public greens in the county normally run around 9-9½.

Last year's extensive damage, however, also left the greens extremely firm. Royal Manchester was never known for having real receptive putting surfaces. But, this spring, Bennett said the Royal Manchester folks couldn't aerate, or punch, the greens as the “recovery process” continued.

The lack or aeration this spring means the Royal Manchester greens are even more firm than normal. They will be extremely difficult to hold, even for accomplished players.

The rough will be rough: The greens, however, aren't Royal Manchester's only significant obstacle.

The rough is thick and nasty and wayard shots will be punished, severely.

Bennett said the course this weekend will feature an intermediate cut about 1½ to 2 inches high and a yard or two wide. Spray your shot a little more off line and the rough grows to about 4 to 4½ inches. Finally, if you lose your drive 40-45 yards from the center of the fairway, your ball will find fescue that can reach over your knees.

Hitting it straight will be at a premium on a course that is expected to play around 6,800-6,900 yards long this weekend.

Don't let the relatively benign slope rating of 120 from the white tees fool you. Royal Manchester is one tough track. In fact, Bennett said the course was recently sloped again and the rating will be going up. Bennett even said the layout's difficulty may have scared away some potential entrants.

“Some players think Royal is too tough to play,” he said. “Course management is key. You may have to put the big stick away if you can't hit it straight. Some players don't want to play Royal because of the high rough and the firm greens. That's their prerogative, but I think it's a shame, because it's a great layout.”

Bennett also said the course is in “excellent condition” and had high praise for the job done by Royal Manchester general manager Kieron Mooney and his staff.

Big guns in field: The field may not be overly big, but it is very strong.

Defending champion Axel Hartman will try to win a second straight title.

A number of other former champs are also in the field, including Bill Brenner (record six titles), T.J. Ostrom (five titles), Scott Knouse (three titles), Matt Henry (two titles) and Bob Ruby (one title).

Bob Ruby.

In addition, nine of the top-10 players in the 2016 YCAGA War of the Roses point standings are also entered. Henry comes in at No. 2, Ruby is No. 3 and Knouse is No. 9. The others are: No. 1 Bobby Stiffler, No. 4 Don Dimoff, No. 5 Brett Berkheimer, No. 6 John Lowder Jr., No. 7 Travis Hoffman and No. 10 Jay Kostenbauder.

Dimoff, the well-known Red Lion High girls' basketball coach and former PGA pro who recently regained his amateur status, is enjoying a stellar year. He won the York County Senior Amateur last month and also teamed with Ruby to take the YCAGA Spring Better Ball. Kostenbauder was the individual medalist at the YCAGA Interclub event. Ruby and Stiffler, meanwhile, have already qualified for the YCAGA Match Play semifinals.

The only top-10 player not in the County Amateur field is Cary Walton.

Overview: Add it all up and you have the potential for a compelling tournament.

After Saturday's first round, the field will be cut to top 40 and ties for Sunday's second round.

Right now, the forecast looks relatively promising for both days, with highs expected around 90, relatively light winds and a low chance of rain.

If that forecast holds up, Bennett believes “if you come through at even par (at the end) you win the tournament.”

By late Sunday afternoon, just one man will be left standing with the coveted trophy in his hand.

You can be sure of one thing.

The champion will not have conquered Royal Manchester. He will simply have survived it better than anyone else in the field.

Sounds just like a U.S. Open.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.