July 11, 2013

Playing it smart: Georgia Amateur course sets up for thinkers

By Chris Whitfield

— One of the beliefs shared by area golfers who will be playing in the Georgia Amateur Championship is that Pinetree Country Club in Kennesaw is a “thinking man’s course.”

The winner, they say, will not be the golfer who hits it the farthest or putts the best.

At this year’s state amateur, you’ll likely need brains as much as you need your clubs.

“It is a course you have to keep it in play and know where to miss it,” said Tucker Snipes of Rocky Face, one of six golfers who reside in Whitfield and Murray counties in the 144-player field. “There are a lot of shots on this course where if you miss it, then your round could go down quickly. You have to think your way around this course. It is a challenge, but it will be a lot of fun.”

This year’s edition of the 72-hole Georgia State Golf Association (GSGA) tournament, which began in 1916, starts today and concludes on Sunday. The field will be cut to the low 70 golfers and ties after 36 holes.

Expected to be a leading contender is Dalton’s David Noll Jr. Noll is returning to the course where he first won the Georgia Amateur title in 2003. Snipes and Noll, who also won this tournament in 2011, will be joined by local players Roger Smith of Dalton, Ethan Hayes of Rocky Face and Tyler Mitchell and Colby Hipp, both of Chatsworth.

According to the GSGA, entries were open to male amateur golfers who belong to a GSGA member club and are Georgia residents. Almost 600 players took part in the qualifying process for this year’s championship. Twenty-eight players made the field through exemptions, including Noll, who has several exemptions, including a 10-year exemption for winning the Georgia Amateur Championship.

The remaining 116 spots were filled by non-exempt players who competed in one of 10 18-hole qualifiers last month.

Last year, Lee Knox of Augusta finished at 6-under-par 282 to finish a stroke ahead of Noll for the title at Ansley Golf Club-Settindown Creek in Roswell. It was the second win in the championship for Knox, and it was Noll’s eighth straight year of finishing sixth or better in the tournament, including three runner-up finishes.

Snipes, a senior at Chattanooga’s McCallie School, and Hipp, a North Murray High School graduate who is headed to play college golf at Emory, both qualified for the Georgia Amateur on the host course. Both said having already had success on the course in the past is a big confidence booster.

“There were several local qualifiers, but I wanted to qualify on the site of the actual tournament,” Hipp said. “It is a very fair golf course. It will be difficult, but the greens are perfect. If it is wet, it will play quite a bit longer because there is a lot of roll out on those fairways. I hope it is a four-day event for me.”

A four-day event is what all of the participants are hoping for. Making the cut and playing on the weekend is a common goal among the local group.

“It is the best field in the state,” Snipes said. “This course is one of those where if you shot even par over two days, you are probably in the top five. I would be surprised to see someone win this tournament with an under-par score.”

Snipes and Hipp both shot 75 at the course in qualifying, finishing three strokes off the medalist of the event.

“This is my first state amateur, and my personal goals are much higher than what I would tell anyone,” Hipp said. “I would love to make the cut. I have high expectations of myself.”

Hipp has been taking advantage of Noll’s knowledge of the course and his track record of success in GSGA events.

In addition to his success in the Georgia Amateur Championship, Noll won titles at the GSGA’s Atlanta Amateur Match Play Championship in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2012, and won the organization’s Georgia Mid-Amateur Championship in 2007 and 2012. He has been named the GSGA’s Men’s Player of the Year eight times, including each of the past six years. In 2008, he was presented the GSGA’s Tommy Barnes Award, given each year to the state’s overall top golfer.

Hipp and Noll have played at the course on several occasions this summer, but Hipp wouldn’t say who won their rounds.

“That is confidential,” Hipp said. “He is probably the best amateur golfer in Georgia and I love playing with David. He is like my golfing idol. I learn so much more when I play with people like him. I love it. I try to learn something new every time I go out there.”

Hayes, a Northwest Whitfield High School junior, qualified with a 74 at Nob North early in June. His first time playing Pinetree was on Tuesday.

“I will be kind of blind going into it, but I love the course,” Hayes said. “It is long and some holes are tight, and the greens are great. I liked that there were some long par-4s. I hope that my length off the tee will help.”

Seven of the 11 par-4s on the course will play 425 yards or longer, including the beastly 505-yard, par-4 16th hole. The course will play at 7,108 yards and is a par 71.

“This is a course where you have to know where to hit it on the greens,” Snipes said. “My length is pretty good, so I will be hitting wedges and nine-irons. That will give me an edge when you are trying to stick your spots.”

Hayes agreed.

“There are a lot more position holes than attack holes,” he said. “You have to be patient. You will make some birdies, but you have to position yourself well throughout the course.”

And no one knows that better than Noll.

“This is a thinking man’s golf course,” he said. “You have to pick your poison as to when to be aggressive.”