Wet course awaits field for 13th annual Tillinghast Invitational

Joe Avento • Jun 1, 2018 at 5:41 PM

Mother Nature might be the big winner by the time this weekend’s Tillinghast Invitational golf tournament is finished.

She’s certainly made her presence felt already and the tournament hasn’t even begun.

The 13th annual Tillinghast gets underway at Johnson City Country Club on Saturday morning on what is expected to be a wet course thanks to a week’s worth of unrelenting rain.

“The course is in great shape, but the rain is killing us,” JCCC head professional Mike Crowe said Friday as players sloshed around during a practice round. “Every time we start to dry out, it rains again. It’s a shame.”

As Crowe spoke, the sun was breaking through the clouds. By the afternoon, it was raining again, albeit lightly.

Crowe said the plan for the 36-hole tournament would likely allow players to “lift, clean and place” their balls.

“I really don’t see any other choice,” he said. “It’s wet out there. We’ll play it by ear in the morning and decide then.”

While tee shots won’t be bounding down the fairways and the course will likely be playing much longer than usual, the greens will be softer and more receptive to approach shots which is expected to make ideal scoring conditions. The greens are usually the 6,400-yard course’s main defense.

“I think everything’s a little soft this year,” said Trevor Hulbert, the defending champion who plays for East Tennessee State. “I remember the greens last year were pretty quick and if you missed on the wrong side, you were in trouble. I think the scores will be lower.”

Hulbert, who beat Lawrence Largent in a playoff last year after shooting rounds of 69 and 70, headlines a strong field. No less than 11 players in the field have won local invitational tournaments, including Chip Spratlin, whose four Tillinghast titles are more than anybody else.

Two-time Tillinghast champ Ben Campbell is also in the field.

Hulbert said being the defending champion has a nice ring to it, but it won’t help him when he tees it up on Saturday.

“It feels pretty good, but the past is in the past and I’m focused on this year and hoping to improve on last year’s scores,” he said. “Playing out here during the school year, everything about this course I’m pretty confident with.”

James White is back to defend his senior championship. White closed with a 68 last year to win by two strokes.

The tournament is a points event for the Tennessee Golf Association’s player of the year and senior player of the year awards. It’s also the first stop on the Tri-Cities Amateur Tour.

With more rain in the forecast for the weekend, the club’s grounds crew might be the MVPs if the tournament is played through its conclusion. Crowe and his staff were hoping for the best.

“We have a lot of good players, a lot of good groups,” Crowe said. “It’s a great field and we’re looking forward to it. I just hope the weather cooperates a little bit.”

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