Each June the quiet hamlet of Rumford, R.I. comes alive for a few days as the best amateur players in the world descend on Wannamoisett Country Club for the Northeast Amateur.
One of the crown jewels of amateur golf, the Northeast (June 24-27) annually attracts many of the top amateurs to Rhode Island where they are hosted and housed by Wannamoisett members.
This year’s field may be the strongest in quite awhile. “This year, being a Walker Cup year, it helps with the strength of field,” said second year tournament chairman, Ben Tuthill. “We have an extremely strong field, top to bottom.”
USA Walker Cup Captain, Spider Miller is scheduled to spend some time on the grounds at the Northeast scouting his prospective team. “He’ll be taking notes and watching closely,” said Tuthill.
The tournament will feature several USGA champions, three members of the 2015 Palmer Cup team, nine of 16 members of the Walker Cup practice squad and nine of the top 25 amateurs in the world.
The Northeast will have a strong representation from SMU. In addition to Bryson Dechambeau, currently the second-ranked player in the world, by virtue of winning the NCAA individual championship earlier this month, the Mustangs will be represented by Austin Smotherman and head coach, Jason Enloe, who recently regained his amateur status.
Enloe is also one of three former Northeast champions in the field, having won the title in 1996. The others are Todd White (1990) and last year’s champion, Stewart Jolly of LSU, one of the few players to return to Wannamoisett to defend. In most cases players who win the Northeast turn pro shortly thereafter.
The top-ranked American (WAGR standings) is Stanford University sophomore Maverick McNealy along with Sam Burns of Shreveport, LA, who is the top junior player in the country.
Each year Wannamoisett seems to get a bit of a facelift and this spring is no different.
“At the end of last season we renovated a few tee boxes,” said Tuthill. “We also lengthened the fifth, sixth and the 16th holes. “It’s not dramatic. It’s eight, 12 and 10 yards or so longer.”
The course, by today’s standards is still short, just over 6,700 yards, but it is par 69 and is not the type of track that players can just overpower. The firmness and speed of the greens, coupled with the penal rough, make it more of a shot maker’s course and forces players to think their way around.
“Generally wind is not a huge factor but last year it was in scoring,” explained Tuthill. “Usually we don’t have a ton of wind at Wannamoisett and last year the winds picked up just as the first ball was about to be hit. It certainly made the course more challenging. The greens were slick and the rough was difficult. It’s certainly never a test of distance for these guys, but it is about placement and being on the right spots on the greens. If you short side yourself or miss in the rough, it’s brutal.”
White will be joined by his 2015 USGA Four-Ball Champion teammate Nathan Smith, and as usual there will be a strong local flavor.
Current RIGA state amateur titlest Bobby Leopold (Metacomet) is in the field along with past champions such as Wannamoisett’s own Charlie Blanchard and Metacomet’s Brad Valois. Newport’s John Hayes and R.I. high school champion and Challenge Cup standout, Will Dickson of Moses Brown will also compete.
“We did have a tough winter,” said Tuthill, “So we do have some damage that is still being worked on. This weather (the recent rain) certainly helps. Our pond was at an all-time low. It was concerning but now it looks as though it should be okay. The course is coming along and should be great for the tournament.”
Last year, in addition to the wind, the greens were very firm and fast and the committee hopes that will be the case again this year. Jolly was the only player to finish under par. “Our goal is to have them firm and rolling 12 to 13 on the stimpmeter, and depending on the weather, we’ll get them there.”
Now in his second year at the helm, Tuthill feels much more comfortable. “The job has been the same,” he said. “We made a lot of enhancements, catching up to the technological advances. We’ve helped streamline the registration process which is all done online now. Last year it was about 50-50 and the previous year none of it was done online. That has helped a lot.”