It’s the height of the summer golf season, and two Keene golf courses will be front and center this week when the N.H. Open, one of the state’s premiere events, is contested over three days and two courses.
A field of 146 professionals and amateurs will chase a $38,000 championship purse. The 54-hole event opens Thursday at Bretwood, then moves to the west side of the city and the Keene Country Club Friday for the second round. A cut (top 40 players and ties) will trim the field for the third and final round Saturday, back at Bretwood.
The North Course will be the venue for both rounds of play at Bretwood.
This marks the first time the same N.H. Open has been staged on two courses, Matthew Schmidt, executive director of the N.H. Golf Association, noted.
“We got to talking about it, myself and Pudge (Pearson, the KCC head professional) and the more we talked it just sort of seemed a no-brainer,” Schmidt said. “They’re pretty much neighbors. Bretwood is a great long golf course. Then the players go over to Keene, and it’s a completely different look. It makes it interesting.”
Pearson, the fourth-year pro at the private course, said he was glad that the notion came to fruition.
“We’re excited; it’s gonna be fun to have it back over here,” he said. “I’m interested in how the scores compare and the outcome. It’s not, ‘oh, our course is harder.’ It’ll just be neat to see how it plays out with the longer course over there and the shorter, narrower course here.”
Bretwood can stretch out to close to 7,000 yards. Keene measures just less than 6,500, but bunkers, doglegs and sloped greens are its equalizing characteristics.
Bretwood has hosted the N.H. Open several times, but not since 2006, when Mark Baldwin of Laconia won. It has played host to the state open 16 times, including a run of 13 successive years starting in 1990, when Jeff Lewis, the stylish touring pro out of Florida who teed the ball high and hit it a mile, took the prize.
Bretwood hosted the open for the first time in 1981; that event was won by Don Robertson of Denton, Texas. Robertson went on to play in three PGA Tour events, but missed the cut each time, including at the 1982 U.S. Open won by Tom Watson and the 1990 GTE Byron Nelson Golf Classic. He’s returning to the region this week to tee it up starting Thursday.
Keene Country Club has been the N.H. Open venue five times, most recently in 1975, when a local standout, Bryan Abbott, closed the deal and won. The course’s debut as the host site was in 1957; that year, Bob Crowley of Weston, Mass., topped the field.
Abbott, a standout multi-sport athlete at Keene High, won the club championship at Keene Country Club in 1968 and 1969, and in 1973 began playing in tournaments sanctioned by the PGA Tour. Abbott died in 2017, in Florida.
Pearson said the NHGA will ultimately set the tees and pins, but noted there has been “a little conversation” about shortening a couple of par 4s to make them drivable. Of course, the finishing downhill 18th is already easily in range, and the par 4 second and 15th holes already tempt long hitters.
“There’s a mock plan he said, “but it will be up the NHGA. Making holes drivable can make the golf fun, but it can slow pace of play, too.”
Schmidt said he’s glad to see that this event has some fresh legs and renewed drawing power. Three years ago, Xfinity came on board as a title sponsor.
“Across the New England open circuit, our purse wasn’t what it needed to be,” Schmidt said. We were barely getting 90 players.”
Having Xfinity changed the game, Schmidt said, noting that a field of 156 players teed it up in 2017 at Manchester CC, and another large field, 144, entered in 2018, at Stonebridge in Goffstown.
“Xfinity wanted to be where its customer base is,” Schmidt said. “Bretwood had been on our short list of getting back to, so we went to Xfinity and told them this is an event we need to take around the state. And they supported that.”
Connecticut native and former Bryant University golfer Jason Thresher, 30, is the defending champion. Thesher won at Stonebridge in 2018, and captured the New England Open earlier this month in Quechee, Vt., firing rounds of 68-65 to finish 10-under par.
He’s a regular on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, but so far has had an indifferent season on that circuit. His run of three straight Massachusetts Open titles was stopped last week. In that event, Mike Martel of New Ipswich, N.H., scored his first professional win. With a one-shot victory, he pocketed $15,000.
The Open has not had a repeat winner since Joe Cioe, 1992-93, at Bretwood. N.H. product Rich Parker doubled up in 1987-88, both wins coming at North Conway. Parker won again in 2007, at the same venue.
Pros, amateurs mingle
Of the players to watch, start with Thresher, the title holder.
He goes off the first tee at 1:39, paired with Mickey Werenski, the younger brother of PGA Tour pro Richy Werenski, who tied for third earlier this season at the Mayakoba Classic.
Besides Thresher, Robertson is the only other former N.H. Open winner in the field.
The lone area professional teeing it up is C.J. Konkowski of Keene CC.
New Hampshire amateur standouts to keep an eye on are local player Ryan Kohler, who was low amateur in this event in 2015, at Owl’s Nest; Matthew Paradis; Brandon Gillis; Jack Brown; and Nate Choukas. Kohler, Paradis and Choukas share the 9:18 a.m. pairing off the 10th tee.
Besides Kohler and Martel, the other area players in the field are Nick Fennucio, the defending club champion at Keene CC, longtime Bretwood veteran Mike Blair, Nick Nadeau, Mike Davis, Jake Hollander and Bob Kearney.
Kearney is a decorated amateur player. He played collegiately at UConn and in 2015 was ranked the No. 1 senior amateur golfer in the country. He qualified to play in back-to-back U.S. Senior Amateurs, in 2015 and 2016, and reached match play in 2015, winning a first-round contest.
He was the runaway winner last summer in the Tawse Division of the City Championships.
Rain in the forecast
Weather could play a significant factor over the three days. Showers, some on the heavy side, are likely Thursday along with a possible thundershower. Wet weather could linger into Friday morning, followed by clearing skies. Saturday will be sunny but the wind will kick up from the Northwest with gusts of more than 20 mph possible.