Golf: Utah State Amateur tournament returns to its roots
The Country Club of SCL will host annual event for first time since 1975
SALT LAKE CITY — You'll hear a lot of the name "Branca" this week when the Utah Men's State Amateur golf tournament returns to be played at The Country Club of Salt Lake City.
The last time the tournament was played at The Country Club in 1975, Tee Branca was in the heyday of his long reign as head professional. That year his 23-year-old son, Don, emerged as the winner, defeating Mack Christensen in the finals. The club's current head professional is Ron Branca, Tee's oldest son and Don's older brother. And among the dozen or so favorites to win is Mike Branca, Ron's son, who also works for the Utah Golf Association.
The State Amateur, which is the longest continuously held golf tournament in the world, going back to 1899, is coming back to its roots this year. The first-ever State Amateur was played at the Salt Lake Country Club when it was located at Gilmer Park. Then after the club moved to 9th East and 24th South, where the current Forest Dale Course is located, the State Am was played there most years for a couple of decades.
After moving to its current location on the east side of Salt Lake near Parleys Canyon, The Country Club played host to 17 more State Ams between 1922 and 1975. However, since '75 when Don Branca won the Amateur, the tournament has never been played there.
However, through the work of Board of Directors at The Country Club and the Utah Golf Association, the State Am is back this year.
"It's a real honor for the club to bring the State Amateur back home," said Steve Brinton, a board member of both the Utah Golf Association and The Country Club. "It's been held here more than anywhere else, and we're honored to be able to host it again this year."
Perhaps it's the allure of what many consider the most exclusive club in the state that has attracted one of the strongest fields in recent State Am history.
Jeff Evans is the defending champion and he got his first look at the golf course in late-June. He said the course was "in great shape" and had a lot more elevation changes than he expected. As the defending champion, Evans receives an automatic spot in the match-play portion of the tournament and the No. 1 seed.
Perhaps his top challenger will be Zac Blair, who won the tournament in 2009 as an 18-year-old at Valley View Golf Course. Blair has missed the past two State Ams because of national tournaments after winning as an 18-year-old, but he made a spot on his schedule this year for it.
"It's going to be fun to see what happens," Blair said. "If not the nicest, it's one of the top two or three courses in the state and a great place to have the tournament for a week."
Blair, who will be a senior at BYU, has won five amateur events in Utah already this year and competed well at last week's U.S. Public Links Championship at Soldier Hollow, where he tied for 10th place in medal play and made the round of 32 in match play.
Other former champions in the field include Dan Horner (2008), who made it to match play in the Publinks, Gregg Oliphant (2002), Darrin Overson (1998), Todd Barker (1997), Jason Wight (1995), Eric Hogg (1989) and Steve Borget (1985).
Several players with collegiate experience are playing, including Devon Purser, Patrick Fishburn, McCoy Willey, Alex Sutton, Cole Ogden, Nick Drost, who won last month's Salt Lake City Amateur, and Mason Casper, who won the Art City Amateur last month with a pair of 64s.
One golfer to keep an eye on is Jon Wright, one of a half-dozen Country Club members competing in the State Am. Wright is a former University of Utah golfer who was a professional for many years before regaining his amateur status six years ago.
The 41-year-old Wright has done well in local amateur events, winning the Salt Lake City Amateur in 2009. Earlier this year, he set the course record at The Country Club with a 62.
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