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County amateur golf tourneys live on another year

COUNTY AM: Cody White (facing) gets congratulations from (from left) Andy Varner, Lance Hoch and Doug Carey after finishing off his third-straight Grant County Amatuer golf championship at Meshigomesia last July. White will try to win a fourth straigth when the 2018 tourney starts at Walnut Creek on July 14.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

The Grant County Amateur Golf Tournament has a glorious past and murky present, but Doug Piper believes the event is well worth preserving.

And so the 87th men’s and 54th women’s county amateurs are set for July 14-15 and July 21-22 with a new twist or two. The senior and junior tournaments are July 6 at Shady Hills. All five Grant County courses are involved in this year’s tournaments.

From its peak of nearly 300 golfers in the 1980s, the field has dwindled down to 41 men and four women last year. Piper, head pro at Arbor Trace, is organizing the county tournaments for the second straight year and said it remains an important event, regardless of the turnout. 

“Most counties do have some sort of county tournament and I’d like to see it keep going as long as we can get people playing in it,” Piper said Tuesday afternoon. “I think Grant County has one of the longest running country tournaments in the state ... and as long as we keep these numbers going we’ll keep doing it.”

Walnut Creek hosts the opening round on July 14 and the tournaments then head to Meshingomesia, the traditional final round course, on July 15. Elks returns after sitting out last year and hosts the third round on July 21, and the tournament concludes at Arbor Trace on July 22.

Piper said the four participating courses were given a choice of which round to host and Meshingomesia head pro Will Clopton opted for the second day. Arbor Trace will host the final round for the first time.

“We’re excited to have any round,” Piper said, “but yeah, we’ve never had the final round and we’re looking forward to it.”

Meshingomesia officials could not be reached Tuesday regarding their decision to host an earlier round.

Last year, Cody White won his third consecutive men’s championship and Jayne Barnes became a two-time women’s champion. White, 21, a junior at Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne, plans to defend his title and said he’s golfing better than ever after recent swing changes.

“I think my game is where it needs to be to win the county again, and hopefully, I can go out there and do it again,” White said.

White entered his first county amateur at age 13 and has seen the number of entrants decline each year.

Yet, the veteran of many statewide and collegiate tournaments said the competition level in Grant County remains strong.

“Absolutely, we have a lot of talent in Grant County and they all play a very competitive game,” White said. “The fields are getting smaller, but the competition is still there.”

While Grant County’s population decline no doubt is a factor, Piper said the small turnout among junior boys and girls has affected the tournament. Piper admits that is particularly worrisome since it is the youth that represents the future of golf.

Last year’s junior tournament sank to its lowest mark when just three boys and three girls entered. Keith Ruberg and Lorne Oke, the Indiana Wesleyan University men’s and women’s golf coaches, are forming a Junior Grant County Tour this summer to pique interest among youths and begin a golf revival.

“I’m not sure what the answer is to get more juniors,” Piper said. “I know what Lorne Oke and Keith Rruberg are doing with the junior golf tour, and if we can get something like this going it would help things.”

Ruberg said golf has been hurt by sports specialization where youths choose at an early age to focus on one sport.

“It hurts them long-term because a lot kids might be the stud baseball player at 10, 11 years old and they may have matured a little quicker than other kids,” Ruberg said. “If you put all that time and effort into one sport you may have missed out on another sport that you could have actually been better at.”

And as a father, Ruberg said the demands of chauffeuring his children to different camps has limited his opportunities to play golf. Ruberg hasn’t entered the county amateur in nearly a decade but said he might this year provided there are no conflicts with his children’s activities.

“The county tournament used to be something else,” Ruberg said. “But think back, that was 10 and 15 years ago when we didn’t have as much AAU being predominant as it is now.

“If I can (enter) I probably will,” he added. “My kids are getting old enough and they are getting active in sports and it’s hard to give up a couple weekends.”

Entry fee is $75 for the county amateurs, $35 for the seniors and $15 for the juniors.

Piper said the men’s tournament will be flighted after the second round depending on the number of entrants. Entry deadline is July 4 for the seniors and juniors and July 11 for the men’s and women’s amateurs.