Golfers come to Cambrian to hone skills

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 17, 2005

Cambrian Ridge is about to make one person $8,000 richer by Friday afternoon.

This week, the Robert Trent Jones golf course nestled into the Greenville landscape will play host as the third stop on the Grey Goose – Gateway Tour. With it, the tour will bring 55 professional golfers playing their way to a championship and then possibly to qualifying school for the PGA Tour.

&uot;It’s going to be playing the trail all through the state for the spring,&uot; said Bryan Reynolds, director of golf at Cambrian Ridge. &uot;It’s the third event of the series.

They will cut the field after the third day. Monday and Tuesday they’ll play 55 players and then they’ll cut 30 percent of the field. Grey Goose- Gateway Tour is a developmental tour, right on scale with the Hooter’s tour. The guys here just get out there and play competition golf and try to work up to the next competition series. It’s a good week. We’ve got 50 guys in town that are in local hotels. We are looking to have a good tournament and hopefully have them back in the summer for a summer series. These guys are posted in Golf Week so there will be some publication and press releases about the tour being in Greenville.&uot;

The Grey Goose Gateway Tour was founded in August 2001 by Chris Stutts, a former Arizona State All-American golfer.

In just three years, the tour has turned into the largest men’s (non-age restricted) golf tour in the United State in terms of purses paid, behind only the PGA Tour and the Nationwide Tour. Last year, the tour finished by paying out over $4 million and saw five of it’s alumni earn tour cards after that 15 of it’s players graduated from the Grey Goose Tour and advanced to the Nationwide Tour.

Think about it on a baseball level.

Single A ball are the guys that are good enough to make it but are still raw enough to stay out of the big league. From single A, the players go to AA and then to AAA. That’s what the Grey Goose Tour is.

These guys start out playing Grey Goose and from there, they make their way to Q-School. After Q-school they have the opportunity to play in the Nationwide Tour and have the opportunity to earn their tour card, which will basically put them on the PGA Tour.

The Series kicked off Feb. 1-4 at Highland Oakes in Dothan and then traveled to Magnolia Grove in Mobile before coming to the Camellia City.

&uot;We want to play the most competitive golf courses in the United States, especially being a developmental tour,&uot; said Ryan Pray, Grey Goose – Gateway Tour Tournament Director. &uot;We want them to be as challenged as possible both on the course and in the competition. We feel that all the courses on the Robert Trent Jones trail are difficult. And out of the courses I’ve seen so far on the trail, this one looks to be the most difficult. I think it’s going to be a great test for our players this week. In Mobile and Dothan both we’ve dealt with bad weather, that’s what we’re looking forward to in this one because it’s supposed to be nice weather in the 70 degree weather and some sunshine. It’ll show how well these guys are playing in good conditions. We’ve had some great scores from the guys playing in bad conditions and they should get better this week.&uot;

While at Cambrian the competitors will have the opportunity to compete on the course two toughest nine’s The Canyon Course and the Loblolly. As different as the names are, the courses are also vastly different.

The Canyon course is a course better suited for players who are confident in their game while the Loblolly is ideal for target and straight-forward golf.

&uot;We’re getting ready to go into our busy season in the spring season so the course was already in pretty good shape, but we have tried to speed the greens up for the guys this week,&uot; said Reynolds. &uot;They are playing the same course that the paying customer will play. We originally had them scheduled to play the Sherling Course. But we still had some tree damage from the hurricane so we decided to pull them off that course and put them on the Canyon and Loblolly Courses. They will be playing the course kind of long. I have a feeling they are going to be playing about 7400 yards. Normally the course is around 6900, but it’s going to be interesting seeing the guys play from the back tees. Loblolly 9 from the back tee is going to be tough to see them carry the water. Anyone that’s played this course before knows it’s a tough course, when you make it longer, that just makes it tougher. If I had to predict right now, I’d say four to five under par would win for the week.&uot;

The course record is currently 61 set during the Hooter’s Tour which came to Greenville in the mid ’90’s.

&uot;Our aspect is for these guys to play competitive golf courses,&uot; said Pray, &uot;and play under pressure the whole year. This being a spring series, we’ll run a series in Phoenix, AZ during the summer and then another one in West Palm Beach, Fla and we just want to keep that competitive spirit alive. The one thing that makes our tour great is that not only are they getting the experience by playing the competitive golf courses, they can make decent money for doing it too.&uot;

So far, the tour has spawned professionally and nationally known golfers, some of the alumni include Kevin Stadler, Jimmy Walker, Kris Cox and Boyd Summerhays. Rob Rayshell, currently on the European Tour got his start on the Grey Goose Gateway Tour.

This year, the field is very varied. This week’s field will involve players like Brad Moore from as far north as Ontario, Canada and like Rafael Batts, from as far south Miami.

&uot;I think it’s a great course, it’s in shape considering the rain and stuff,&uot; said Batts. &uot;It’s a tough course. I’m hoping I’ll win, that’s what I came here for. So far everything’s run real well. I’ll probably play the summer tour in Florida.&uot;

It also has a local flare with Greenville’s Mike Grizzle competing for the first time in this or any other tournament on this level.

&uot;I’m local, I guess you could call this my course, but I don’t feel like I have an advantage, said Grizzle. &uot;These guys have been doing this for a little while now and they know what to expect. This is my first experience at the professional level, so I’m excited for it. I feel like they have the upper hand on this, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

This is my first tournament ever. I’m a lot nervous.&uot;

The Grey Goose Gateway Tour also consists of the Pacific Series in San Diego with a championship purse of $ 901,000, the Desert Series in Phoenix/Scottsdale with a total purse of $ 2,265,000 and the Beach Series in North and South Carolina with a purse of $1 million and the most recent addition, the Robert Trent Jones Series with a total purse of $1,120,000.

The 2005 Tour Championship will take place in December at a yet to be announced course in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The entry fee is currently set at $12,000 per entrant for the 10 tournaments plus the Tour Championship. Interested golfers should call Ryan Pray for further details at 480-703-9907. For more information about the event at Cambrian Ridge call 334-382-9787.