Considered to be the "signature" hole at Clifton Springs Country Club, the par-4 17th is a dogleg right that has a prominent tree guarding the approach to the green on the right side of the fairway, above. One of the challenging closing holes at Clifton Springs, No. 17 will be sure to provide late-round drama during the 2017 RDGA Match Play and Senior Match Play Championships on May 26 to 28.
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When Clifton Springs Country Club hosts the RDGA Match Play Championship and RDGA Senior Match Play Championship on May 26 through 28, it will mark only the sixth time in it's 58-year history that the club has hosted an RDGA major - the most recent time coming less than a year ago, when it hosted the 2016 RDGA Junior Championships.
For Clifton Springs' head PGA Professional Michael Basch, the return of major championship golf to the club offers a welcome spotlight for a golf course that is more than up for the challenge.
"The golf course can be overlooked when talking about some of the 'good facilities' in the area, most likely due to our location and that’s unfortunate," he adds. "But the people who do get a chance to play our course know how challenging - but fair - it can be."
Last year, when Clifton Springs hosted the RDGA Junior Championships, the occasion allowed a trip down "memory lane" for Basch, who recalled having played in that event as a junior. This year, there will be more memories - both made and recalled - but for different people.
"Two of our own will be teeing it up in this Championship," Basch beams about Clifton Springs members who will be in the field for the Match Play Championships. "The local legend, Ken 'Pops' Andrychuck (18-time Club Champion, and past RDGA District Champion and Senior Champion) is playing in the Senior Match Play. His local knowledge will surely help him compete. In addition, Nick Velasco - a former St. John Fisher golf team member - will be teeing it up in his first RDGA Match Play Championship. Match play suits Nick’s game and he could really make some noise."
"I’m very excited to see how the best players in the area score on our golf course, particularly in match play format, as there are many risk reward opportunities coming down the closing stretch," he adds.
Playable, Yet Challenging, for Every Skill Level
As one of the Rochester area's most well-established private country clubs, Clifton Springs Country Club draws its membership from all over the region, not just from the northern Finger Lakes area where it is located. But - just like the names in the RDGA Match Play Championship change over time, so too does the membership at the club.
"We have some new blood here now, it's a fun place to be," says Basch. "Our membership is on the rise and the course is in perfect shape. The greens typically roll around 11 to 11.5 (on the Stimpmeter)."
In fact - thanks to the dedication and efforts of Golf Course Superintendent Keith Kelley - one of the outstanding features about Clifton Springs are the greens. Through the years, many golfers have noted how the course's greens are among the best in the Rochester area - being fast, yet consistent, and having many breaks and undulations which make for interesting pin placements during tournaments.
"Don't let the course's length fool you," Basch adds. "Although we 'tip it out' at 6,700 yards, the golf course plays much longer, as many approaches are uphill."
To prove a point, even though the back nine is the shorter of the two, it requires the most attention from golfers, especially as a competition or match comes down to the final holes.
"No. 17 is our signature hole," says Basch. "It isn't very long (372 yards), but there's a pond along the left side of the fairway and trees along the right - and just before you reach the green, there's a tall tree guarding the approach. I'm sure that hole will make or break a lot of matches during the Championship."
In fact, the final four holes at Clifton Springs can prove a challenge to most golfers, according to Basch.
"On No. 15 (a short par-4), you'll want to hit driver - BUT, the fairway is narrow, so you'd be better off hitting Hybrid or a 3-wood. No. 16 is a long par-3 (180 yards); 17 - our signature hole is a tough dogleg right, although it has one of the flattest greens on the course; and No. 18 is a great finishing hole."
That said, the front nine is no bargain, either.
The view from the 3rd green at Clifton Springs - called the "toughest green on the course"
by PGA Head Pro Michael Basch.
"If you can play the front nine in even par, you'll be in good shape," says the pro, adding that the greens on the front side are the trickiest - including No.3, which he describes as the toughest on the course.
"But, once you go to the back nine, you'll have an opportunity for a couple of early birdies," Basch notes. "No. 10 is a birdie-able par-5; 11 is a short 3 - in fact, that's where most of our holes-in-one are scored - and No. 14 is another 'gettable' par-5."
Then again, there's those last four holes that have the potential to erase any progress you've made on holes 10 through 14.
"The course is really a 'tale of two nines,'" Basch adds.
A Colorful History
Clifton Springs Country Club has enjoyed a long history in the surrounding community.
The present course was completed and opened in 1959 - designed by the noted and prolific local golf course architect "Pete" Craig, who also designed other popular courses in the area, including Deerfield Country Club and Wild Wood Country Club, as well as portions of Eagle Vale Golf Club and The Golf Club at Blue Heron Hills, among many others.
The location chosen for the club was on the site of a former stone quarry - in fact, for years after the course first opened, members were picking out rocks from the sides of the fairways and stones would even turn up from time to time when new pin placements were set on the greens, according to Basch.
But prior to being built at it's present location, members of the club originally played on an earlier version of the club, located near the hospital in the village of Clifton Springs.
"Back then, the club was called 'The San' - short for the Sanitarium, or hospital, where it was located," says Basch. "People would go there for relaxation and their health, including the natural springs there in town."
In the 58 years since it has been at its present location, Clifton Springs has developed its own history and has produced many top amateur golfers, including 1983 RDGA District Champion Ken Andrychuk and, more recently, junior standout Erika Tillotson.
Another long-standing tradition at the course is the annual Two-Man Scratch Best Ball - otherwise known as "The Fabrizi" - which attracts many of the top amateurs from around Rochester, as well as New York State.
One of the challenging closing holes at Clifton Springs is the 15th, which features a wall made from stones from a quarry that once occupied the site.
Two Match Play Titles - One Championship
The 2017 RDGA Match Play Championships - both the men's and senior championship brackets - get under way on Friday, May 26. The twin Championships have very different histories - but both feature the best of what local amateur tournament golf has to offer. Spectators are welcome to attend all three days of the RDGA Match Play Championships at Clifton Springs, free of charge.
The District Match Play Championship for men is in its 21st edition this year and seven-time champion (and last year's winner) Jim Scorse of Stafford, past champion James Mason of Oak Hill and last year's Match Play runner-up Zach Ottman of Penfield will all be competing for this year's title. They will be joining the starting bracket of 24 golfers that begin play at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, playing two single elimination rounds; continuing Saturday with both the Quarterfinal and Semi Final rounds; and concluding Sunday at 7:30 a.m. with the Championship match between the surviving two finalists.
The RDGA Senior Match Play Championship, on the other hand, is only in its third year this season, but received such a positive welcome in its first year that the field was expanded last year to accommodate the demand for entries. Although defending Senior Match Play Champion Bob Chalanick is not returning to defend his title, several past RDGA Senior Championship winners - including past RDGA Senior Champion Mark Battle and last year's Senior Match Play runner-up, Steve Hakes - are in this year's starting bracket. Starting times for the Senior Match Play brackets and matches begin following the final tee time of the regular Match Play contests.
For both championships, the fields are selected - and seeded - based upon points earned during tournament play the year before, creating an elite atmosphere to open the major championship season for 2017.
The Match Play Championships also have a unique connection to the RDGA District Championship, dating back to the earliest days of the RDGA in 1930. For the first 38 years of the RDGA District Championship, the event was conducted as a match play competition - until 1969, when a 72-hole stroke play format was adopted, which has continued to be used to this day. When the RDGA Match Play Championship was added to the District schedule in 1997, it restored the tradition of top match play competition that had been absent from the RDGA for nearly 30 years.
In addition to crowning Match Play and Senior Match Play Champions following the final matches on Sunday, RDGA Match Play finalists will also earn exemptions into the 2017 RDGA District Championship John H. Ryan Memorial, to be hosted by Locust Hill Country Club on July 12 to 15.
The Start of a New Chapter
Although Clifton Springs has hosted a handful of RDGA Championship tournaments in the past, including 3 District Senior Championships as well as two Junior Championships - PGA Pro Michael Basch hopes that this year's Match Play Championships continue an "upward" trend.
This article was written by RDGA Communications Director Dave Eaton.