By Marty James
The names of the winners on the Sacramento City Men’s Golf Championship trophy read like a “Who’s Who” in the game.
There is Bob E. Smith, Bob Eastwood, Mark Wiebe, Spencer Levin, Matt Bettencourt and Bob Niger. They each advanced in their careers, going from the amateur golf ranks, to playing on the big stage – the PGA Tour or PGA Tour Champions or both – as professionals.
There is Verne Callison, Frank Toronto, Ray Arrino, Phil Arrino, Joey Ferrari, Dave Carr, Dave Baskins and Lou Alvarez. They are all local amateur stars, a few of whom are also in the First Tee – Greater Sacramento Hall of Fame, which “recognizes those individuals that had an everlasting impact on the landscape of golf in and around Sacramento,” according to the organization’s website.
Each one of them is on the trophy – one of the most coveted as a top annual amateur event in not only Sacramento but Northern California.
There are so many others – those who have been victorious in the event at either Arcade Golf Course, Del Paso Country Club, William Land Golf Course, Bing Maloney Golf Complex, Sacramento Municipal Golf Course and Haggin Oaks Golf Complex over all the years. The tournament began in 1921.
“The city championship has a tremendous amount of history, with a lot of outstanding players, both national amateur champions, as well as champions who have gone on to the PGA Tour,” said Ken Morton, Sr., a PGA Master Professional and the Chief Executive Officer for Morton Golf LLC, which manages golf operations at four facilities in the area – Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, Bing Maloney Golf Complex, Bartley Cavanaugh Golf Course and William Land Golf Course. “It’s a great event. Competition is really a great part of the game of golf. We’re always glad to see the tournament continue to survive and grow and be important.”
The centennial year
This is a big year for the Sacramento City Men’s Golf Championship, presented by the Sacramento Golf Council. It’s the 100th anniversary of the event, which takes place at Haggin Oaks, June 5 and 6, at the Alister MacKenzie Golf Course. It’s a par-72, 7,030-yard layout.
“We’re anticipating a great turnout and a great tournament,” said David Eisner, the tournament director who is a member of the Sacramento Golf Council. “With it being the 100th anniversary, we anticipate a number of college players playing in the tournament. With COVID, it’s been much more difficult for them to find tournaments that they can play in, whether that’s in school or not. We’ve had some contact with some of the players that are expressing that they were very happy with the tournament going on at that time because it’s basically at the end of their school year.”
Registration for the two-day, 36-hole stroke play event, which will have a maximum of 120 players, opened March 1. It’s also an NCGA points event and is open to all male amateur golfers with a current WHS (World Handicap System) Index of 5.0 or less, the Sacramento Golf Council said. There is no cut. The deadline to enter is May 28.
“We anticipate it filling up before that time,” said Eisner. “Early entries are good, because we will probably have a waiting list. I’m really anticipating several under par to win the tournament.”
Rules officials from the NCGA will be on hand for the event. Players will be introduced by the tournament starter on the No. 1 tee prior to each round. Players will be grouped in threesomes with nine-minute intervals from the No. 1 tee starting at 7 a.m. on Saturday, June 5. The final-round groupings on Sunday, June 6 will be based on first-round scores, with the leaders starting at the end of the field, the Sacramento Golf Council said.
“We’re extremely proud to host it in its 100th year at the Alister MacKenzie Golf Course,” said Morton, who was inducted into the National PGA Hall of Fame in 2005 and was honored as the National PGA Professional of the Year in 1998. “We certainly are going to do everything we can to promote it and get the word out.”
The Sacramento City Men’s Golf Championship was canceled last year due to COVID-19.
Michael Cliff, who is a senior on the Fresno State men’s golf team, won the 2019 tournament, shooting rounds of 74 and 66 for a 4-under-par 140 total at Haggin Oaks. Cliff won by two shots over Kevin Blue of Davis (70-72 – 142) and by three shots over Paramdeep Sodhi of Folsom (74-69 – 143), Matthew Watkins of Novato (76-67 – 143), Dylan McDermott of Granite Bay (72-71 – 143), and Drake Mendenhall of Granite Bay (70-73 – 143).
Ashkaan Hakim of San Ramon won the title in 2018. Hakim shot 67-72 – 139.
The champion of the tournament will receive a crystal trophy and his name will be engraved on the perpetual trophy.
If permitted by COVID-19 protocols, the awards presentation will immediately follow play at the large tournament scoreboard, the Sacramento Golf Council said. Approximately 25 percent of the tournament field will be awarded with merchandise certificates. All merchandise certificates are redeemable at either Haggin Oaks, Bing Maloney or Bartley Cavanaugh golf shops, the Sacramento Golf Council reported.
An evolving championship
Years ago, the tournament had a match play format and was played over two weekends. It has consistently attracted many of the top players in the area.
In 1968, the tournament was changed to medal play. From the beginning in 1921 and continuing to 1967, it was a match play format.
“Over the last 20 years, certainly the better amateur players that play in this event tend to be the college players. You have players from colleges all over Northern California that typically come to compete,” said Mike Woods, a PGA member who is Vice President, General Manager and Director of Golf at Haggin Oaks and is also a former Sacramento City Men’s Golf Championship tournament director.
“There’s definitely this mix of the top junior players in the area that are playing as well. If you’re a junior at one of the high schools here, and you’re working on a college scholarship somewhere, you’re looking forward to playing in this event and playing against some of these top college players, because that’s the next level for you,” Woods said. “There is still the kind of journeyman amateur in the area, that will play in these kind of events, that has a career but loves to play amateur golf. There’s still an element of that, where those individuals will come out and play and really get excited to compete and see if they can still do it.”
Woods played in the Sacramento City Men’s Golf Championship in the late 1980s, during the time he was attending Sacramento State as a member of the golf team. Woods recalled the emotions and nerves that he experienced in those years, playing in a field with some older-age golfers with more experience in the game.
“I can totally remember that. It’s not hard for me to go back there, when I was 18, 19, 20,” said Woods, the Vice President of the Morton Golf Foundation and a member of the Sacramento Golf Council. “I’d be playing with a lot of these names that you see from that era, a whole bunch of other guys, 30- to 40-year-old men that could really play and were not nervous and had played in this a lot. I would look up to them and think, ‘Wow, look at the way they play the game. This is amazing.’ You know, I could really play, but I wasn’t as seasoned as they were.”
A look at the Alister MacKenzie Golf Course
Designed by Alister MacKenzie, the tree-lined course “promises an incredible test of golf skills,” with three par-3 and three par-5 holes on the back nine, and “is a true test of golf for the low handicapper,” according to the Haggin Oaks website, www.hagginoaks.com.
There is a lot of history to Haggin Oaks. Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen all played in the Sacramento Open, hosted by Haggin Oaks, in the late 1930s, according to “California Golf with Mark Soltau.”
A course description reads:
“Whatever tee you play from, you’ll be treated to a great escape from the heart of the city and the concrete jungle as you play among the stately heritage oaks along the plush bent grass greens and fairways of the MacKenzie Course. Here, the stately oaks average over 100-years-old, the bent grass fairways and teeing areas are lush casting a brilliant green luster from tee to green.”
The last two holes on the course, No. 17 and 18, are both par-5s.
“The greens are very challenging,” said Eisner, who played in the tournament during the 1960s and ’70s with a third-place finish one year. “All the greens have some very difficult spots.”
Spectators are welcome
Spectators are welcome to attend and gallery at no charge.
“We encourage them to come out. We like to see the spectators come out and enjoy the competitive part of golf,” said Morton.
The Alister MacKenzie Golf Course provides spectators with great viewing – tee shots, approach shots, short game around the greens. Spectators can also rent a golf cart, if needed.
“A lot of these amateur players don’t get to play in front of crowds, and so they really love the opportunity to showcase what they can do. It makes it special for them,” said Woods.
For more information on the Sacramento City Men's Golf Championship, visit sacgolfcouncil.org.