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Tillinghast Invitational to jump-start local golf season

Joe Avento • May 19, 2020 at 11:02 PM

JOHNSON CITY — The Tillinghast Invitational is the first tournament on the local golf schedule and the way things are going, it might be the first competitive event to take place on the local sports calendar.

The 15th annual event is scheduled for June 6-7 at Johnson City Country Club. After several meetings and discussions, the club decided to go ahead with the tournament as the area begins to reopen from the coronavirus pandemic.

Tyler Deaver, the club’s new head professional, will be overseeing his first Tillinghast Invitational.

“We decided that it was late enough in the year that we could do it and feel comfortable doing it while abiding by the social distancing restrictions and rules,” Deaver said during Tuesday’s news conference. “I’m excited about being the first one.”

The 36-hole stroke play event is the first tournament on the Tri-Cities Amateur Tour schedule and a Tennessee Golf Association points event.

Tanner Davis is the defending champion after beating Chance Taylor in a sudden-death playoff last year.

Organizers have a plan for the flagstick and bunker rakes, neither of which is supposed to be touched by golfers under the current COVID-19 protocols.

Last year, a new rule went into play allowing players to putt with the flag still in the hole, so some will choose that option. But this is a major competitive event, so some will want the flag out on putts.

The club is requesting volunteers to help to rake bunkers and attend the flagsticks on each hole.

Golfers also will be riding one per cart.

“We’re really excited to have everyone come out for the Tillinghast,” said Brian Marion, the club’s vice president and golf chairman. “It is the first tournament of the year and we realize there’s going to be some changes that people may have to get used to with social distancing.

“We want to keep that in place for the tournament, but we will also want to have a competitive event, and I think we’re at a good starting point.”

When competitors arrive at JCCC for practice rounds, they might notice some subtle changes to the course. More than 50 trees have been removed since last year and several greens are surrounded by shaved chipping areas instead of rough.

“We took out over 50 trees over the winter, and a lot of them you can’t tell,” Marion said. “But the ones you can tell, you really can tell. In our tree-management program, what we really started with was turf quality being number one and strategy and widening fairways being number two.

“We went back to the original green drawings and we’re putting in the chipping areas like they were drawn in originally when the greens were coming in. Bringing those back to life will make make some difference.”

Competitors will also notice the gigantic new putting green, part of the new practice area installed last fall.

The course might play a little differently as well, but that always depends on the weather. Dry conditions make the greens firm and tough to navigate.

“That’s going to be a fun task going out there with my golf chairman and superintendent trying to figure out what locations to use,” Deaver said. “We probably stuck to the same locations each year, but I just want to get some new hole locations out there.

“You definitely have to be careful and look at the weather. There are some places out there where if the greens are too firm then you’re, I don’t like to use the word unfair, but you’re getting into where it’s going be tough to make some putts.”

The tournament will feature a championship division, a flighted division, a senior championship division and a senior flighted division. The senior divisions are for players 50 and older, but golfers must be at least 55 to earn state points.

The entry fee is $175 for non-members, $155 for members, and includes two tournament rounds, a practice round and lunch during the tournament. Cart fees are not included.

Hotel rooms at the Carnegie and Holiday Inn have been reserved at a special rate for out-of-town players.

The entry deadline is May 29. Call the JCCC pro shop at (423) 975-5220 for more details.

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