Prep golfers from Oakland County are converging on Pontiac Country Club May 14 in Waterford.
The Division 1 county tourney routinely boasts one of the strongest fields of the season, and local coaches believe this year is no different.
“I would rate this as one of the stiffest (fields) as far as competition goes, because you have all the best teams in Oakland County, and in most cases, teams in Oakland County fare well in the state tournament,” North Farmington coach Bruce Sutton said. “Really, it’s a strong field and a test for all the teams.”
The tournament features six squads that are ranked in the top 10 in their four state divisions, with Novi Detroit Catholic Central (ranked No. 1 in D-1), Farmington High (No. 6, D-1), Clarkston High (No. 7, D-1), Rochester High (No. 9, D-1), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood (No. 1, D-2) and Auburn Hills Oakland Christian (No. 7, D-4).
The rest of the field features yearly contenders like Birmingham Brother Rice, Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, Birmingham Brother Rice, Rochester Adams and defending champion Lake Orion High.
“Oakland County is really the premier county in the state for boys golf,” Rochester coach Paul Marti said. “There are other good teams around, but Oakland County is stacked. How you fare in the tournament really says a lot about your team. It’s a big one for us, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Rochester comes in as one of the favorites after winning the Next Tee Boys Invite May 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club, in the process besting defending state champions Battle Creek Lakeview in D-1 and Grand Rapids Christian in D-2, along with Catholic Central and Brother Rice, among others.
“It just reaffirmed what I’ve been saying all season long — that we’re as good as anyone if we can all play well on the same day. That, of course, is the challenge,” Marti said.
Clarkston is also one of the top contenders after running through arguably the toughest league in the state. The Wolves won all four Oakland Activities Association Red Division tournaments, with Rochester coming in second three times and Adams coming in second once.
“I would say Clarkston is the top team around. Adams is always solid, but you also have those teams like Catholic Central, Brother Rice and Cranbrook. There are just very good teams in this county,” Marti said.
Berkley High is the new team on the block. The Bears qualified for the tournament after winning the D-2 county tournament last season.
This is Berkley’s first appearance in coach Scott Baltes’ 12 years of coaching.
“Moving up will be fun. You have all the big boys in D-1,” he said earlier this season. “Coming in as the winner of D-2, it’s going to be nice to play with some of these stronger teams.”
Sutton and Marti said the county tournament has been held at the country club for as long as they remember. Club Manager Mark Syron said the course has hosted the event for 20-years plus, noting that he played there in the county championship in his high school days in the 1990s.
The teams will navigate the 6,360-yard layout in shotgun fashion.
“Pontiac is a classic tree-lined course with small greens that roll well,” Brother Rice coach Dan Bumpus said. “You have to keep the ball out of the trees and take advantage of the par 5s.”
Syron noted that the first five holes offer a chance for scoring, with two par 5s, the shortest par 3 (measuring 145 yards) and two par 4s under 400 yards.
Players also need to be aware of their misses on No. 6, a 352-yard par 4. It features a green heavily sloped from left to right. A shot missed on the left, depending on pin placement, leaves a very tough up and down.
On the back, players are again challenged off the tee. On No. 12 and 14, any shot off the fairway brings trees in play. Both holes also come with elevated greens, including two tiers on No. 14.
“I think holes 14 through 18 are going to decide what you’re going to shoot,” Syron said. “You can make a double bogey on any of them at any time.”
Players head back to the clubhouse on the 523-yard par 5, which is fairly open but features a creek running around 280 yards in front of the tee, forcing longer players to make a decision to try and carry it or not.
“Playing it safe can never hurt you because of the way the course is set up. You can get yourself in trouble out there. The course has pretty much everything,” Sutton said. “I always tell my kids, par is not bad.”