I still remember the chilly May mornings and hot August evenings working at the Williamsport Country Club. As a late teen, I couldn’t have dreamt of a better gig – getting paid to spend time at a golf course! Working in the outside “bag room,” I would spend my days washing carts, cleaning clubs and doing my best to enjoy as much time as possible engaging in golf-focused banter with the members.
Growing-up in central Pennsylvania, there weren’t an abundance of classic golf course gems that you may find in bigger PA cities like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. However, the Williamsport Country Club is the one course in the area that stands tall above the rest.
Built in 1909 by famed golf architect A.W. Tillinghast, the course has maintained it’s classic charm and pristine conditions for over 100 years. Despite only playing ~6,700 yards from the back tees, thick rough and small undulating greens present a stout challenge even in today’s era of 300+ yard tee balls.
While the course has played host to numerous USGA and PA Golf Association events and qualifiers (most recently a 2015 US Open Local Qualifier), one of my favorite events held here each year is the Williamsport Invitational. This is an annual event I first learned about when picking-up the game in middle school, and one that has great sentimental value to me. I love not only the competition, but also the camaraderie and great tradition embodied by the Invitational.
Two weeks ago, Brittany, Ella (our energetic pup) and I made the trip back to Williamsport for my last appearance in the amateur tournament given my plans to declare professional status this fall. This year marked my 9th time playing in the event, which has been held for an impressive 86 years.
Different than the normal individual events I compete in, the format of this event is comprised of 100 two-man teams that play 18-holes of medal (stroke) play Thursday, and then are placed in flights based on the scores. The Championship flight features the top 16 teams from the qualifier, who then compete in match play the remainder of the week to determine the overall winner.
Last year (2014) was the first year my parter, Jordan Isenburg, and I won the championship. As defending champions, we knew we would need to play well to defend last year’s title.
We started out this year with a steady qualifying round of 67 to enter match play in the Championship flight as the number 5 seed. After grinding out wins in our sweet-16 and elite-8 round matches, we ultimately were eliminated in the final 4 by a team of steady-playing members. The front nine saw a back and forth exchange of birdies, but unfortunately a few back-9 bogeys on our part were too much to overcome.
Although we fell just short of a win, it was a great week and certainly bittersweet in many ways. I’ll miss this tournament for many reasons. The great classic style golf course, requiring precision irons and a deft touch around the greens. The memories of my first (and maybe best!) job. The fierce, yet friendly, competition. Above all though, I’ll miss the people. The familiar faces that have supported and encouraged me since my early days in the game.
As I embark on the next chapter of my golf career, I’ll never forget my experiences in the Williamsport Invitational. After all, it’s not only the competition, but the camaraderie, that make golf the greatest game.