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Allen Lessels' NH Golf: Long, hard winter slows start of golfing season

A long, hard and lingering winter has slowed the start of New Hampshire's golfing season.

The season should begin heating up soon: The first qualifying tournament for the men's State Amateur tournament will be held in less than three weeks.

"It's been tough," said John Jelley, tournament director of the New Hampshire Golf Association. "I'm hearing that a lot of courses are having issues with their greens. Some made it through the winter okay and some are using temporary greens. It varies from spot to spot, but a lot of people are saying we're about a month behind where we should be."

A winter that started with cold winds in November never offered much in the way of warm spells to assist golf superintendents in dealing with ice.

"It was a severe winter as far as winter kill goes," said Bob White of Duston Country Club, a nine-hole course in Hopkinton. "We got snow and then in December a lot of ice built up on the grass. The grass can survive maybe 60 days under a sheet of ice and after that it basically suffocates."

Duston's has one green that got hit hard and the others are in good shape.

A chilly April did not help golf course superintendents catch up from the tough winter.

"It just hasn't warmed up," Jelley said. "Superintendents are fighting a battle to get grass to grow. I was over at Lake Winnipesaukee the other day and the soil temperature was 49 degrees. They'd like to see it 56 to 58 at this time of year. With these cold nights, it just doesn't get heated up."

New Hampshire is not alone in the cold.

"I hear Maine and Vermont have similar issues," Jelley said. "It's more widespread than just around here."

Things will get better.

"In Maine, they're making a point of telling golfers to be patient," White said. "That's what we're all striving for, so golfers don't show up expecting gorgeous conditions. Conditions are not perfect, but they will be. It's just going to take a little time."

The first of five qualifiers for the State Am - not including the Juniors tournament, which also serves as a qualifier - is set for May 20 at Souhegan Woods Golf Club in Amherst.

The number of those entered to qualify is down a bit at the moment, likely thanks to the weather, Jelley said.

"People are just starting to come out of hibernation," he said. "I think folks haven't gotten started as early as in some years and guys like to get out and play a couple of rounds and see where they're at before they start entering tournaments."

The NHGA generally has close to 300 golfers attempt to qualify for it highest profile event.

"Hopefully we'll be around 275," Jelley said. "I think we'll be pretty close."

The State Am is at Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown this year for the first time and will be held from July 14-19 with two days of medal play with the field cut to 64 for match play. Between qualifiers and exempt players, the field will include somewhere around 144 golfers.

Mike Martel, 21, of New Ipswich beat Chris Rivard in last year's State Am championship match at The Golf Club of New England in Stratham.

Stonebridge will be a busy place this summer. The course is also the new host of the Symetra Tour - the feeder tour to the LPGA - event that has been held the last nine years at Beaver Meadow in Concord.

The New England Charity Classic with its purse of $100,000 is scheduled for Aug. 8-10.

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The New Hampshire Women's Golf Association State Championship and a couple of New England Amateur events are among the scheduling highlights of the upcoming season.

The women's championship will be held at Windham Country Club from Aug. 4-6.

The women's New England Amateur, put on by the New England Women's Golf Association and featuring 18 golfers from each of the region's six states, is scheduled for Keene Country Cub from June 30-July 2.

The men's New England Senior Amateur is on tap for Sept. 16-17 at Laconia Country Club.

alessels@unionleader.com


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