BLOOMFIELD HILLS – The plan is to turn professional later this year, but Hartland’s Beau Breault had a few things he wanted to do first this summer as an amateur golfer.
Among them, and especially this week, is defending his 2018 Michigan Amateur Championship when the 108th version of the state championship is played on the North Course at Oakland Hills Country Club and presented by Carl’s Golfland Tuesday through Friday.
“The plan is to go pro but the decision comes after the summer,” he said last week while playing in the Michigan Open Championship in Acme. “Winning the Amateur last year meant a lot to me, and I wanted to play at Oakland Hills.”
Michigan’s most famous golf club, primarily because of the South Course which has hosted multiple major championships and a Ryder Cup, is hosting the Michigan Amateur for the third time on the club’s sister course, the North Course, which like the South is an original Donald Ross design. The North, also like the South, was renovated several years ago by Robert Trent Jones Jr., and the North Course, in 2013, was worked on and renovated in spots by noted architects Arthur Hills and Steve Forrest.
Last summer at the Country Club of Detroit, Breault turned back Anthony Sorentino of Shelby Township 4 and 3 in the final match to become the eighth golfer in 107 years to win the Michigan Amateur after being the runner-up the year prior. In 2017, he fell in the final to Tom Werkmeister of Grandville.
Breault will defend the historic Staghorn Trophy this year against the usual top field of the summer amateur schedule. Over 820 entrants have been paired down through 15 qualifiers presented earlier this spring around the state to a starting field of 156 golfers who will play 36-holes of stroke play over the first two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, to determine the seeding of a 64-golfer bracket for match play. Six rounds of match play over three days will determine a champion by Saturday afternoon.
Sorentino is back in the field. The 41-year-old attorney has won three GAM Mid-Amateur Championships and first made a splash in golf as one of the golfers on the first reality show presentation of The Big Break by the Golf Channel in 2003.
Two former Michigan Amateur champions, Ryan Johnson of New Boston, the 2015 champion, and Henry Do of Canton, the 2014 champion, are in the field.
Including Breault, Sorentino and Johnson, 10 members of last year’s celebrated final “Sweet 16” are in this year’s field. They include John Quigley of St. Clair Shores, Max Rispler of Grand Rapids, Drew Coble of Lake Orion, Charlie Green of Ann Arbor, Noah Schneider of Jackson, 2018 semifinalist Ben Smith of Novi and David Hall of Birmingham.
Last year’s stroke play medalist Andrew Walker of Battle Creek is in the field, as is James Piot of Canton, who is the reigning GAM champion.
Oakland Hills members, many of whom will serve as volunteers and many of whom are among the state’s top golfers, will have 10 members in the field to root for this week. They include Nicholas Bonema, Jeff Champine, Patrick Fayad, Brett Hudson, Ken Hudson, Ryan Klopcic, Bill O’Connor, Scott Petrovich, Henry Scavone and Scott Strickland.
Top juniors from the last few years, Patrick Sullivan of Grosse Pointe and Bradley Smithson of Grand Rapids are qualified for this week. Other top players on the GAM Honor Rolls in recent years playing this week include Brad Bastion of Shelby Township, Dan Ellis of East Lansing, Brian Hayward of Grand Rapids, Connor Jones of Rochester, Bryce Messner of Howell and Jack Weller of Swartz Creek.
The North Course is an established part of Michigan Amateur history. Michigan Golf Hall of Fame member Randy Lewis of Alma won his first Michigan Amateur title on the North in 1992, topping Dean Kobane of Livonia 3 and 2 in the final match, and Drew Preston of Ada took the title in 2012, holding off Werkmeister, another Hall of Fame member, 2-up in the title match.
Returning to the North Course didn’t take 20 years like the first two visits in ’92 and 2012. Ken Hartmann, senior director for rules and competitions for the GAM, said in 2012 the club and the GAM agreed on the course being part of a “rotation” for at least three visits.
“We would hope to be there in 2024 if it works for the club,” Hartmann said. “It’s really hard to beat Oakland Hills as a championship venue, the membership is proud that it can serve tournament golf, and the North is a great, great golf course.”
The field members who last played in the Amateur on the North Course in 2012, will see some differences. Oakland Hills hosted the 2016 U.S. Amateur championship and used both the North and South for the stroke play rounds to determine the match play field. In preparation to host the national championship the North course had Hills and Forrest fix drainage issues at No. 15. They essentially moved the pond at 15, renovated 30 of the bunkers on the entire course and added around 300 yards in length to what is now a par 70, 6,908-yard course with a rating of 74.6 and slope of 138.
The North Course has more hills and more water hazards to negotiate than the South Course and still features the sand-flashed bunkers in the style of Jones though some were moved in response to changing landing areas. The North, which opened in 1924, six years after the South opened for play, was presented starting during The Great Depression as a public course called North Hills for 35 years (1932-1967). It has also been used for parking during the major championships on the South and was tweaked by Hills before the 2004 Ryder Cup and the 2008 PGA Championship in part to be used as a practice range and site for the Ryder Cup opening ceremonies.
It’s sometimes referred to as the “other” course at Oakland Hills, but it is not just another course.
“If you moved it five miles away, called it something else, it would have a ton of members and get rave reviews,” Hartmann said. “It would be considered one of the best courses in the state. It’s one of my favorites in Michigan.”
Lewis, the ’92 winner appeared at a media day for the 2012 Michigan Amateur on the North and called it a great golf course.
“It's too bad it's the alternate course to the South Course, because it's really one of the best courses in the state, by far,” he said.
When Preston won in 2012 on the North Course, he felt great pride in victory, but also realized he was part of the history of a storied club that has two great golf courses.
“To be a champion here – I can’t even get my head around that,” he said.
The public is welcome free of charge to the championship. Those attending are asked to follow club directions to free parking areas and dress in appropriate golf attire.