Hecla hosts seniors

PAUL TURENNE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:45 AM ET

Whoever wins this week's 2005 Canadian Senior Match Play Championship will get to know Hecla Golf Course real, real well.

The event, which begins this morning on Hecla Island, will see 86 of the top Canadian and American senior golfers tee off for the chance to be the last man standing.

By the time the dust settles, the winner will have played eight rounds of golf -- twice as much as a regular tournament.

"During the stroke play it's not bad because it's only 18 holes a day, but once you get into the match play round it becomes a grind," said Dwight Sandquist, a Calgarian who has played in the event twice before. "But the good thing about senior golf is you can just hop on the cart and away you go."

The event begins with three rounds of stroke play today, tomorrow and Thursday. The 32 top players are then ranked 1 to 32 based on their three-day scores. Then the fun starts.

A match play bracket is set up for the weekend with the top seed playing the 32nd seed, the second seed playing the 31st seed and so on, and a single-elimination head-to-head tournament begins.

There will be two knockout rounds Friday and two on Saturday, with the last two remaining golfers going head to head on Sunday for the title.

TWO CRITERIA

In order to qualify for the tournament, golfers had to meet two criteria: They had to have a handicap factor of 8.0 or less, and they had to be at least 55 years old.

The event, now in its ninth year, has only ever seen two Canadians emerge as champions: Quebec's Robert Fugere in 1999 and B.C.'s George Stokes at the inaugural event in 1997.

Neither of those golfers, nor three-time (2004, 2003, and 2000) champion Billy Graham of Pensacola, Fla., who pulled out earlier this season citing an injury, will compete at Hecla. In fact, the only past champion at this year's event will be Minnesotan Gary Thorp, who won the title in 1998.

That leaves the door wide open for any of the 57 Canadians -- including nine Manitobans -- or 28 other Americans in the field to take their first Canadian Senior Match Play Championship.

"It will be competitive. I definitely think we'll see some good scores here," said Nathan Brooks, the tournament's director.

Because it's an amateur championship, there is no prize money on the table, but the winner gets a trophy, a watch, and a free pass to an even bigger tournament.

Every year, the winner of the match play championship is granted exemptions into both the Canadian Senior Championship and the USGA Senior Men's Championship, but this year both those tournaments are taking place at the same time so the winner will have to choose. The Canadian championship goes Sept. 19-22 at Le Club de golf Milby in Lennoxville, Que., and to the 2005 USGA Senior Men's Championship goes Sept. 17-22 in Rocky Face, Georgia.


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