Down the Fairway: Challenge Cup is a top event to watch

Dan Russo, 64, of Hagaman has been the anchor of the CRAGA team in the annual Challenge Cup against the NENY PGA set for Tuesday at the CC of Troy. (Photo provided)

Dan Russo, 64, of Hagaman has been the anchor of the CRAGA team in the annual Challenge Cup against the NENY PGA set for Tuesday at the CC of Troy. (Photo provided)

For both personal and professional reasons, Tuesday’s annual Challenge Cup between the top pros from the Northeastern New York PGA and many of the best amateurs from the Capital Region Amateur Golf Association is one of my favorite events.

Hosted again this year by the Country Club of Troy, the Challenge Cup pits the pros against the amateurs in a Ryder Cup-style event that combines both partners and individuals in a match-play format. There are 12 players on each team, with six groups of two for each side. Each tandem, chosen off each organization’s player of the year point list, is playing a best-of-two balls match and an individual match play match simultaneously. There is one point earned for winning the front side, one for the back and one for total, meaning there is nine points up for grabs in each group for a total of 54 points.

Last year, the local pros snapped a four-match losing streak to defeat the amateurs 28.5-25.5 for their first victory since the 2014 season. The Challenge Cup wasn’t played in 2020 because of the pandemic, and weather challenges wiped out the 2018 event.

The amateurs lead the current series 17-13-2, although the local pros have a slight edge since The Daily Gazette resurrected the Challenge Cup in 2005. Previously, similar events to the Challenge Cup were known as the Yamaha Cup and then the Bob Smith Cup, named after the late longtime Wolferts Roost CC head pro.

At one time, the Smith Cup was one of the most popular tournaments in the Capital Region. It was held over two days, and all three Ryder Cup formats — best ball, alternate shot and singles match play — were played.

Interest gradually died out for that event until former Cobleskill G&CC head pro Dal Daily, now working in Florida, came to me and asked if there was a way The Daily Gazette could sponsor a remake of the pros vs. amateurs competition. I went to The Daily Gazette general manager at the time, Bruce Donadio, and pitched the idea. Donadio, like many Daily Gazette administrators at the time, loved golf, and he was all for it. That’s how this version of the pros/amateurs tournament got started. The Daily Gazette sponsored it for about a dozen years.

The first Gazette-sponsored Challenge Cup was held at Ballston Spa CC. It’s also been held at Albany CC, The Edison Club, Mohawk Golf Club, Shaker Ridge CC, the CC of Troy and Schuyler Meadows.

On Tuesday, one of the best matchups will be an Eagle Crest Golf Club tandem of head pro/owner Scott Battiste with Director of Instruction Scott Berliner against Dan Russo of Schuyler Meadows and former pro Joe Fitzsimmons of Shaker Ridge CC.

Niskayuna High School product Battiste is a former NENY PGA Match Play champion, and Berliner, a 47-year-old Lake Luzerne native, is the section’s all-time major tournament winner (29), including 11 Stroke Play Championships in the last 12 years. Russo, 64, is the Capital Region amateurs’ all-time leader in major tournament wins (19, including nine CRAGA Stroke Play Championships), and he’s also a two-time NYS Senior Men’s Amateur titlist who has appeared in 12 national USGA championships. Fitzsimmons, a Colonie policeman, is a former CRAGA Stroke Play Champion.

This year’s amateur team includes plenty of youth, with former Saratoga Springs High School and current Southern New Hampshire University star and former Saratoga County Am titlist AJ Cavotta, fresh off an appearance in the NCAA Tournament; Siena College’s Nolan Crowley, also from Saratoga Springs, Ryan Davis and Nick Lyons helping out the veterans like Paul Pratico and Lance Hope.

The pros also feature Eric Mabee, the 2021 Stroke Play champion from the CC of Pittsfield, new Burden Lake CC head pro Justin Hearley, who won the section’s first two Classic tournaments this season, and multiple section major tournament winner Chris Sanger of Woodstock Golf Club, as well as NENY PGA president Rich Scott of Fox Run, Skidmore College coach Tom Oppedisano and Mohawk GC’s Jeremy Kerr, just to name a few.

Following are the lineups and pairings:

9 a.m. — Tom McGinn-AJ Cavotta vs. Tom Oppedisano-Jeremy Kerr.

9:10 — Dan Russo-Joe Fitzsimmons vs. Scott Berliner-Scott Battiste.

9:20 — Nick Lyons-Nolan Crowley vs. Marc Levesque-Anthony Therrien.

9:30 — Ryan Davis-Mike Stopera vs. Rich Scott-Kyle Kressler.

9:40 — Clint Lange-Jason Urschel vs. Chris Sanger-Jesse Muller.

9:50 — Paul Pratico-Lance Hope vs. Justin  Hearley-Eric Mabee.

NYS FOUR-BALL

Defending champions Mike Stopera and Mike Dwyer of The Edison Club will lead a strong field in the New York State Men’s Amateur and Senior Amateur Four-Ball Championship Sunday and Monday at Leatherstocking Golf Club.

Other top local tandems include Jim Mueller of Orchard Creek with Bill Paulsen Jr. of Eagle Crest; Dan Russo of Schuyler Meadows with Jim Gifford of Mohawk Golf Club; Jack Manning and Kyle Adams of The Edison Club; David Arakelian of Hiland Park CC with John Murphy of the CC of Troy; Joe Marro and Corey Purcell of Shaker Ridge CC; Louis Walsh of Ballston Spa CC with Ryan Simpson of the NYSGA eClub-Capital District; Joe Fitzsimmons of Shaker Ridge CC with Ben Bates of the NYSGA eClub-Capital District; and Clinton Lange and Griffith Hunter of the NYSGA eClub-Capital District.

Also representing the area are Nick Roney and Jason Symons of Cobleskill G&CC; David Smith of Shaker Ridge CC and Nick Brooks of Colonie G&CC; Kevin Broderick of Schenectady Municipal with Jim Toomey of Capital Hills at Albany; Dave Pallas of Saratoga Spa Golf Course with Jim Welch of Olde Kinderhook; Ed Kinley of Wolferts Roost CC with Travis Koch of Saratoga National; Justin Vonk and Greg Hayes of Shaker Ridge CC; Michael Stefanik of the NYSGA eClub-Capital District with Brandon Tecler of The Edison Club; and Dan Ireland and Chris David of the CC of Troy.

CHIP SHOTS

Sam and Helen Warner were presented with the Most Valuable Members Award for their long service to Cobleskill Golf & Country Club at the annual Spring Swing to kick off the season recently. Sam Warner was a member of the club for 64 years, serving on the board of directors and as club president, while Helen was a former ladies league champion and extremely involved in the club’s social activities and volunteer committees. Also announced was Mitch Wrighter as the new golf shop manager. The board of directors now includes Ted Langenbahn, Chris Tretter, Geoff Rightmyer, John Seebold, Roxanne Marks, Warren VanDeusen, Deb Langevin, Anthony Johnston, John LaBarge and Tom Collins. Bob Smith continues as club president, and Jon “Bear” Briggs remains as the course superintendent.

The second annual Nine & Dine Golf Scramble, to benefit To Love a Child, Inc., will be held July 22 at Fairways of Halfmoon Golf Club. There will be registration at 3:15 p.m., followed by a 4 p.m. shotgun start. Entry fee is $85 and includes nine holes of golf with cart, prizes, an Italian buffet dinner and a cocktail hour. There also will be a themed basket auction and a 50/50 raffle. For more information, contact To Love a Child, P.O. Box 165, Clifton Park, NY 12065 or call 518-859-4424. Proceeds will benefit Food Forests & Clean Water in Zimbabwe and Thyme to Thrive Educational Programs in the Capital Region.

Schenectady Municipal Golf Course is the site for the Schenectady High School Football Golf Tournament July 9 at 9 a.m. Entry fee is $135 and includes golf, cart, Continental breakfast, hot dogs/hamburgers/refreshments at the turn, dinner, a golf towel, T-shirt and golf divot/marker tool. Contact Schenectady High head coach Carmen DePoalo at 518-495-6555 for more information.

David Duval, whose father and grandfather were Schenectady natives, will be the featured player in the inaugural Charity Skins Game Tournament to benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Schenectady Aug. 16 at Mohawk Golf Club. Homestead Funding will be the hall of fame sponsor. The former No. 1-ranked player in the world, Duval won the Open Championship and the Players Championship among his 13 PGA Tour wins. Blaine McCallister, who has five PGA Tour victories and has been very familiar to local golf fans as a longtime contestant in the former Ellis Hospital Capital District Skins Game, will be the tournament host.

Also entered in the four-person skins format will be two other familiar names to golf fans. Darren Clarke has won 21 tournaments worldwide, including the 2011 Open Championship. He was a five-time player and the 2016 captain for the European Ryder Cup team. Fred Funk won eight times on the PGA Tour, including the Players Championship, and he’s also won nine times on the Champions Tour. He was a member of the 2003 and 2005 Presidents Cup Team as well as the 2004 Ryder Cup team for the U.S.  Contact Joel Slutsky (518-376-9909) for more information.

The 29th annual Great Dane Athletic Club Golf Classic will be held June 9 at noon at Wolferts Roost Country Club. For more information, contact Justin Brown at 518-437-4774 or [email protected].

Airway Meadows hosts the 17th annual Wilton Rotary Golf Classic June 18. Entry fee is $100 and includes golf, a light lunch and dinner. The format will be a four-person scramble at noon. Special events during the tournament include a chipping contest, a putting challenge and a corn hole competition. Contact Don Wildermuth (518-430-8670) for more information.

The 31st annual ALS Memorial Open will be held June 22 at Van Patten Golf Course. The format will be a scramble, starting at 11 a.m. Proceeds will benefit St. Peter’s ALS Regional Center. The event has raised $2.3 million so far.  Entry fee is $760 per foursome and includes golf, cart, range balls, a grab and go lunch, a 19th hole reception and dinner. There will be a 10:30 a.m. shotgun start. There are also numerous sponsorship opportunities. You can register at www.alsmemorialopen.org or contact Scott Daly (518-339-0491) or Steve Michaels (518-772-9489).

HOLES-IN-ONE

At Western Turnpike, Don Selsky used a 9-iron for his ace on the 125-yard fifth hole on the white course.

Beth Snyder hit a 9-iron for her hole-in-one on the 100-yard 13th hole at Mill Road Acres GC.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

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