'The best playing field in 10 years'

Duncan MacLean • Jun 16, 2018 at 12:05 AM

SPRING LAKE TWP. — Every year since 1919, women have gathered at Spring Lake Country Club for the area’s premier amateur match play ladies golf tournament. This year marks the 97th Spring Lake Invitational Tournament and promises to be one of the most exciting to date.

Eighty women will tee off Monday for the 18-hole qualifying round at SLCC, over the typical tournament max of 72 players due to high demand.

Of those 80, four are former Invitational champions, three more participated in the championship flight tournament last season and an unprecedented seven players boast connections to NCAA golf programs.

“This may be the best playing field we have had in 10 years, because of the number of collegiate players and some awesome past champions coming back to play,” said Spring Lake Country Club golf pro Josh Lathwell. “It should be a great championship flight.

“We normally cap the field at 72, but it filled up in two days back starting March 1. So, we added an extra flight because the waiting list was so long.”

Former Spring Lake High School standouts Anna Kramer and Kayla Krueger highlight the college contingent as Kramer returns to town after her freshman season at the University of Indianapolis and Krueger after her sophomore season at Valparaiso, holding their sixth lowest scoring average in school history.

Grand Rapids has sent a pair of young challengers, as well. East Kentwood graduate and former member of Western Michigan University’s golf team Sarah White will toss her cap into the ring, alongside Megan Skoog of Forest Hills, coming off her freshman year at Butler University.

Joining them are a trio of college-bound golfers bent on keeping their game sharp for their impending freshmen seasons. Madelyn Nelson, a three-time state champion at Spring Lake, is signed up for the tournament and headed to Valparaiso in the fall.

Sophia Trombetta will represent the Buckeye state, but don’t let that fool you; this recent graduate bleeds blue. Ohio’s 2018 Division 2 runner-up individual is committed to take her talents to the University of Michigan following what promises to be a competitive run at the Spring Lake Invitational.

Finally, Caiya Dewitt of West Ottawa High School enters the field with plans to continue her career at the Division II level at Lewis University.

Finally, rounding out the younger portion of the field is Natalie Samdal, a finalist from 2017. Samdal most recently took third place at the MHSAA Division 3 state finals, leading the South Christian golf team. She will look to best her first-round elimination from the champions flight last season.

Returning as champions are last year’s overall winner Shelly Weiss; the last back-to-back champion Maureen Whitehead (2010, 2011); the 2005 champion Barb Schmid; and the 1993 champion Susan Campbell.

“Last year’s medalist shot an 80. This year, I expect we could see eight scores in the 70s,” Lathwell said. “It will be interesting to see the balance in this field. In match play, there are always some wiley vet moves that wouldn’t happen at a college event for the younger girls. Also, in match play, the length of shot doesn’t necessarily make a difference in who wins the hole.

“It will be very interesting to see how the qualifying goes Monday and how the flights shake out.”

In addition to the loaded field, SLCC’s course layout contributes to a particularly thrilling ladies tournament.

“We have a great course for ladies match play,” Lathwell said. “It is a good length, and the greens can be sneaky.

“We don’t change much about the course for this tournament. We don’t try to make it unfair or unnecessarily challenging. We press the speed a bit on the greens and the women play the silver tees, which is in between the regular women’s and men’s tees, so there is some extra distance to make it a bit more challenging than normal.

“We move the pin placements every day of the tournament and usually try for a typical six hard, six medium and six easy locations.”

The four-day event is a momentum breaker for the Spring Lake Country Club golf calendar, calling for an all-encompassing effort.

“The club’s dedication to the tournament is what has kept it going. It definitely takes us out of our weekly schedule for member events,” Lathwell said. “We have had years that we didn’t fill the tournament, but the club wanted to push to have it and continue making it better each year.

“It is an all-hands-on-deck event for us and we have the help of several great volunteers. It is one of our biggest events of the summer, for sure. It is really fun to put on a tournament of this caliber. It is nice to have players from the past come back and to get to see new faces on the course every year.”

Monday’s qualifying round tees off at 8:15 a.m., with the final group hitting the course at 10:12 a.m. Following the qualifying round, the field will be stratified into 10 flights and continue the match play tournament Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

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