The competitive amateur golf season in Western New York comes to a rousing close this month.
The New York State Mid-Amateur Championship runs Friday through Sunday at Crag Burn Golf Club in East Aurora.
Western New York amateurs will be trying to sweep the state's two big men's events, because Williamsville's John Gaffney won the state amateur in July at Wanakah.
No Buffalo District golfer ever has won the state mid-am, which was initiated in 1984. Gaffney isn't entered, because he qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur, which starts Saturday in St. Louis.
Nevertheless, "home-course" advantage should give at least a slight edge to Western New Yorkers.
Park's Tim Hume, Niagara Falls' Fred Silver, Crag Burn's Jim Smith and Sheridan's Tom Gantress are among the top WNY entrants.
"I think the guys are going to see a good test of golf," said Crag Burn pro Lonnie Nielsen. "We've been growing the rough up for them a bit the last few weeks, so it's going to be very important to keep the ball in the fairway."
The field of 132 cuts to 60 and ties after the first round and 30 and ties after the second.
The event is open to the public. Crag Burn is located on North Davis Road, which runs off Route 20 in East Aurora.
It will be a surprise if last year's champion doesn't make a strong bid to defend his crown.
Luke Hobika, a 31-year-old attorney from Syracuse, claimed last year's state mid-am on his home course, Yahnundasis Country Club. But he has a strong track record in the event, no matter where it's held.
Hobika was runner-up in '96 and a top-20 finisher in '97.
"I'm pretty confident in my game right now," Hobika said. "I'm looking forward to putting on bent-grass greens in New York State."
Hobika just got back from the U.S. State Team Championships on bermuda grass greens in Virginia. (He shot 77-76 and New York finished well back in the pack.)
Hobika has one big disadvantage. He never has seen the Crag Burn course. However, he's not likely to spend much time in the infamous heather guarding Crag Burn's fairways.
"I'm a short hitter," said Hobika, the Syracuse District player of the year last year. "I keep my ball in play, and I'm a very good short-range putter."
Sixteen of the Buffalo District's top players will go from Crag Burn to the Country Club of Buffalo for the inaugural BDGA Match Play Championship, to be held Sept. 27-28.
Nielsen on roll
Crag Burn pro Lonnie Nielsen was a steamroller on his way to his second straight WNY PGA Match Play championship this week at Monroe Golf Club in Pittsford.
Nielsen was tied at the turn in his quarterfinal match with Lancaster CC pro Jack Widger. He then played the next five holes in 5 under to win, 5 and 4. He routed Kirk Stauffer of Bradford, Pa., 6 and 5 in the semifinal. In the final, he made seven birdies and two bogeys in a 2-and-1 win over Rob Horak of Rochester's Blue Heron Hills. Nielsen closed it with a 40-foot downhill-sidehill birdie putt on the par-3 eighth (the second-last hole of the match).
It was the eighth time Nielsen has won the match-play crown over the past 16 years.
Once again Buffalo-area golfers can be thankful for a great season of weather.
"Actually, I can't remember a bad season for about the past eight years," said Mike Clawson, pro at Glen Oak Golf Course in Amherst. "This was a good year, although last year as a whole was probably the best we've ever had. Last year, we were playing golf here through November."
The summer (June through August) was the 14th warmest in the last 57 years of records at the airport and the third most dry in the last 42 years, according to the National Weather Service. April precipitation was 75 percent below normal. May and June both were two-thirds below normal. We had the fifth driest July on record.
"I'd say our revenues will be about 10 percent up," said Dennis Rainey, Town of Tonawanda parks and recreation director. An average year at Tonawanda's two courses is about 50,000 rounds each. Rainey said the town might hit 55,000 at each.
At Deerwood in North Tonawanda, the city expects to reach 56,000 rounds, maybe 58,000, said John Silsby, city director of youth, recreation and parks.
"Last year was the best we ever had, we were over 61,000," Slisby said.
A big reason revenue is up at many courses is more people rented carts this season, because of hotter-than-normal weather. July was the third warmest on record in Western New York.
Dome set to open
The Town of Tonawanda's golf dome, located at Brighton Golf Course next to the I-290 Expressway, is scheduled to open in mid- to late October.
The facility, 270 feet by 350 feet, is the area's biggest golf dome. The hitting area will be about 85 yards long, about the same as the area's other domes. The Tonawanda dome also will have a 35,000-square-foot chipping and putting area, as well as 18 holes of miniature golf.
At one end of the hitting area will be a bunker practice area about two stalls wide and pointing out toward the end of the dome. So golfers will be able to practice fairway bunker shots as well as bunker shots with a sand wedge.
Junior Tour a hit
The Western New York PGA was thrilled by the success of its Junior Golf Tour, which finished its first season. More than 200 youths ages 12 to 18 competed in 10 events.
"The response was great," said Bob Ashley of the WNY PGA. "I was expecting maybe 150 members and was hoping to get 72 players at each event. We had more than 100 at the majority of the events."
Next year the WNY PGA is aiming to expand and localize the tournaments. It is thinking of having 15 spring events, five each in Buffalo, Rochester and Erie. Then it may run four events in each of those three districts during July and August. Ashley said his group has been talking with more private clubs about going to their venues in the summer.
Mike Slawatycki of Attica Golf Club won the boys' 12-to-14 age group season title with an 81.1 stroke average.