Two-time RI Stroke Play defending champion Brad Valois shares lead
Brad Valois <br>(USGA Photo)</br>
Brad Valois
(USGA Photo)

RUMFORD, RI (July 25, 2016) -- As a four-time State Amateur champion, Brad Valois knows good golf when he sees it. He loved what he took part in Monday in the opening round of the RIGA’s 33rd annual Stroke Play Championship at Agawam Hunt.

"That was the best golf I’ve ever seen in the RIGA," Valois said of his day competing with Kyle Hoffman and Cameron Andrade. "Everybody was hitting good shots. No one was missing anything. And the course is in the best shape I’ve ever seen it."

"It was fun," Hoffman agreed, "a fun day."

As so many organizations do, the RIGA seeds players based on past performance. The successful players in previous events tend to play together. Still, in a 114-player field it is extremely rare to see the players in the same threesome finish the day at the top of the scoreboard. But that’s what happened on Monday.

Valois, the two-time defending champion, and former Four-ball winner Hoffman tied for the lead with 3-under-par 66s over the new Agawam layout, one featuring several major renovations from the course’s first century of use.

Andrade, whose father’s name already is on the tournament’s list of champions _ his dad, Champions Tour star Billy Andrade, won the first Stroke Play event in 1984 when it was contested at Montaup _ was next with a 67.

Andrade, whose father’s name already is on the tournament’s list of champions _ his dad, Champions Tour star Billy Andrade, won the first Stroke Play event in 1984 when it was contested at Montaup _ was next with a 67.

The day also included a hole-in-one by Herman Decones with a nine-iron playing from the senior tees on the eighth hole, which was 138 yards.

Still, anyone who wanted to follow the leaders just had to stay with the threesome that began at 9 a.m. Valois, who is coming off an eighth-place finish in last week’s New England Amateur, set the tempo for the group. By the time the threesome was walking off the seventh green, he was 5-under.

He birdied 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7, and made only one putt over five feet. Three times, he stiffed his approach for almost tap-in birdies. On the short par-4 seventh, he almost drove the green, chipped across and over the green, and then chipped in for bird. He cooled off from there, making nine pars and two bogeys over the last 11.

Hoffman was the steadiest of all. He did not have a bogey until the 18th. By then he was 4-under thanks to birds at 6, 11, 13 and 17 so that even a bogey on the finishing hole kept him in a tie for the lead.

Andrade got it to 4-under thanks to six birdies through the first 15 holes, but he settled for a 67 because of bogeys on 16 and 17.

The good scoring was only part of the day’s discussion. The event was the first RIGA competition at Agawam since the course, established in 1897, underwent significant renovations in the past year.

Among other work, the fifth hole was changed from a par-5 to a par-4, the sixth lengthened with a new tee to a par-5 from a long par-4, and the 15th changed from a dogleg par-5 to a 365-yard par-4, thus lowering the overall par to 69.

The reaction among the players was almost universally positive. Several mentioned that they were disappointed with the change to the sixth hole, which had been a strong 460-yard hole. However, virtually everyone praised the other changes, especially the dramatic change on the 15th. The old hole often required strong players to hit an iron off the tee, another iron to stay short of a pond and then a wedge home. The hole now plays with only a slight dogleg, allowing players to decide for themselves how aggressively to play the hole.

Tom Acciardo, who works at the course, reported that the renovations are not complete. The course hired Gil Hanse, the architect who designed the new course that will be used in the Olympics in Rio this summer. Among other work, Hanse has suggested that some tress be removed on the sixth hole and a bunker built to replace them.

"They’re going to take out five or six trees on the right side of six to give you more room to hit it," said Ben Donaldson, a four-time club champion at Agawam who opened with a 72 on Monday.

"I liked the old 15th, but I think I was the only one," Donaldson added. "But I like the new one, too."

Under superintendent Drew Cummins, the course also grown fescue in numerous areas, especially on the holes across the road (8 through 14), giving the layout a strong old-time feel.

Those who shot 77 or lower qualified for Tuesday’s 36-hole finale.

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Format: 54 Holes - Stroke Play. Eligibility: Handicap index of 12.0 or less. Member of RIGA member club.

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