One of Western New York’s longest-running amateur golf tournaments will tee off this week at Wanakah Country Club.
Named after a longtime Wanakah member, the Jack Ahern Cup Matches date back to 1955, four years before the first Porter Cup was contested.
This year’s event runs Thursday through Sunday.
Originally a scratch tournament modeled after Bing Crosby’s “Clambake,” the Ahern was formed in an era when the best amateur golfers often maintained that status, because professional golf did not feature the purses or television exposure it does today. The original format of the tournament featured the area’s 16 best amateurs teamed with a Wanakah member in match-play competition. The event has evolved over the years - in 1970, a handicap division was added, and in 1989 a senior division was started.
This year, a total of 26 teams, each featuring a Wanakah member and guest, will compete. The top eight teams will be grouped in what’s akin to a championship flight, playing 72 holes over three days.
One point is awarded for the low ball on a hole in a match, while a half point is lost for the highest score, meaning each hole has up to 1½ points at stake. In the round-robin portion of the tournament Thursday and Friday, each match has up to three points available – for low score on the front nine, low score on the back nine and overall low score. The unusual format ensures teams will have a chance Friday to advance to the final Saturday no matter what happens in Thursday’s match.
“It’s pretty intense,” said Peter Walsh, the Ahern tournament chairman. “You can be three or four down, and the next thing you know you make a birdie and someone on the other team blows up. There can be big swings. Especially with our 14th to 17th holes here, a lot of Ahern matches have been won and lost there.”
The Ahern committee annually tracks the top local amateur players in Western New York for its invitations. Members at the club are chosen based on handicap, which makes for plenty of competition to get into that low eight.
A blind draw is then held to match members with a guest, based on a weighted system designed to give the “best” amateur player the greatest opportunity to get paired with the member with the highest handicap.
That just so happens to be Walsh this year, who’s a 7 handicap. The pairing system worked, as he’s teamed with Buffalo District Golf Association points leader Danny Yustin.
“Let’s face it – members need a great guest,” Walsh said. “But the member can’t just drive the cart, either.”
Walsh has played the Ahern since 1994. That year, he was paired with Fred Silver, one of the area’s premier amateur players out of Niagara Falls Country Club.
“I’d been reading his name in the paper forever,” Walsh said. “We started out, and I made double bogey on the first three holes. Fred went par-birdie-birdie and we’re plus-1 as a team. I remember one of our opponents saying, ‘Hey kid, how do you like the format?’
“That was my entry into the Ahern, and some of the most fun I’ve had has come in the tournament.”
In past years, future PGA or Champions Tour players like Jeff Sluman, Joey Sindelar and Rod Spittle have taken part. Local legend Ward Wettlaufer also played.
“The favorite part for me is that it’s a true golf tournament,” Walsh said. “It’s a great opportunity for the members to play with some of the best golfers in Western New York. To carry on the tradition is really special.”
In addition to the match-play portion of the tournament, a medalist is awarded after the opening three round-robin rounds. Last year, that went to Orchard Park’s Jon Clark.
Clark and Yustin are two of the amateurs in the field – along with other local standouts like Raman Luthra, Jamie Miller and Billy Hanes.
The Country Club of Buffalo’s Donald Ross restoration has been named Best of Show in Golf Inc.’s Restoration of the Year contest.
CCB took first place in the category for private courses that underwent a restoration of at least $1 million. The course on Youngs Road in Amherst spent about $1.9 million to restore most of the 117 bunkers in place when Ross designed the course, as well as renovate tees, relocate fairways, restore greens and complete drainage and irrigation work.
Mark Bonner oversaw the restoration as CCB’s chairman of the golf course long-range planning committee. CCB used Ross’ original personal records, including aerial photographs taken in 1927, to ensure historical accuracy.
“As the project illustrates, modern technology has done much to take us back in time,” wrote John Colligan, the principal of Colligan Golf Design, who sat on Golf Inc.’s panel of judges. “Research and documentation of the work done by the best in the business allow players of today to enjoy the masterpieces of yesteryear.”
Forse Design Inc. was the project’s architect, while Aspen Corporation served as contractor.
In the Golf Inc. article accompanying the award, Bonner says CCB members have been thrilled with the work.
“It’s not surprising to see a member riding a cart around the course just to show a friend because it is so beautiful.”
• Josh Stauffer of Pine Acres Country Club in Bradford, Pa., defeated Corey Haas of Bartlett Country Club in Olean, 3 and 2, in the 36-hole championship flight of match play in the 78th Southwestern New York-Northwestern Pennsylvania Men’s Amateur held earlier this month at Bartlett.
Stauffer is a member of the St. Bonaventure golf team, while Haas plays at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford. Ninety-five players participated in the tournament, with $20,000 raised for two local charities in Olean – Homecare & Hospice, and The Rehabilitation Foundation.
• Lancaster’s Patty Sue Ploysa was a member of the victorious U.S. women’s team in the World Deaf cup, which was held last month in Traverse City, Mich. The U.S. won its sixth world cup, finishing with a four-round total of 646. The top two scores among five players on the team were used for four rounds, with Ploysa’s rounds of 85 and 91 being used in the second and third rounds.
Last week, Ploysa won the Midwest Deaf Ladies Golf Association championship in Columbus, Ohio. Ploysa won the tournament, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary, by six strokes over Mary Batchel of Ohio.
• Local golf news of note is welcome at the email address below.