Bitner, who coached a combined 88 seasons between the boys and girls golf teams throughout his 49 years with Spring Lake, was on hand Monday to watch his former team compete against an elite field.
Playing in a unique Stableford scoring system, Spring Lake finished the day with 32 points, 12 off the pace. The Stableford scoring method awards points for pars, birdies and eagles, while taking away points for double-bogeys or worse. While players still turned in their own personal score, the points system determined the event’s final outcome.
Spring Lake senior Nick Krueger, a Grand Valley State University commit, played alongside two future college teammates Monday in a fun, but competitive round. He shot a 2-over 74, which was actually third in his group, as DeWitt’s Charlie DeLong fired a 73, and Mason’s Alex Jordan fired a 72. Krueger earned 16 points on the day in the Stableford system.
Krueger, who was lucky enough to play for Bitner during the last years of his Hall of Fame coaching career, was excited to play this event in honor of the coaching legend.
“It was great playing for George,” Krueger said. “He loves high school golf. It’s all he thinks about, so it was a special event. This was my first home invitational at Spring Lake, so it was fun to play 18 holes on this course.”
Spring Lake Country Club, sparkling in rare sunlight, proved the perfect host site for Bitner’s inaugural event. Quick greens gave the players some trouble, especially on the back nine, but the course’s four short par 5’s allowed players to make up strokes if needed.
“This course is very challenging but fair,” said Bitner, an honorary member at Spring Lake CC. “The groundskeeper came over from Massachusetts, and he’s just a miracle man, unbelievable. He’s really fixed this course up. They’ve got people here who know what they are doing.”
The tournament ended in just over four hours, which had Bitner beaming from ear to ear.
“I loved the pace of play, they ought to show that to the PGA Tour pros,” Bitner said. “I was really pleased with the pace of play, and I was happy to see so many spectators out there following along supporting the kids.”
Evan McDermott, fresh off a 3-under 34 on the front nine here last week in O-K Blue Conference play, fired a 78 Monday. Though he never had the opportunity to play for Bitner, he was appreciative of everything he had done for the sport in Spring Lake.
“The history here is great. Coach Bitner is a legend at Spring Lake, so to be able to play a tournament named after him is unbelievable,” McDermott said. “It was a great opportunity.”
McDermott, a freshman, has started to gain confidence on the varsity level, quickly developing into a state contender alongside Krueger.
“I’m very comfortable out here (at Spring Lake Country Club), especially on the front nine,” he said. “My game has improved so much even since this winter.
“It’s unbelievable to have someone to look up to like (Nick) and someone I know I can count on for a good score for the team puts less pressure on me and him to go out and shoot a good score.”
DeWitt and Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian tied for first with 44 points. NorthPointe Christian star Erik Fahlen caught everyone’s attention with a superb 4-under 68, earning 22 points in the process. Byron Center finished third with 41 points.
Though Spring Lake was likely disappointed with its fourth-place finish at home, it can rest assured that no one on the team featured their A-game Monday. The team, as a whole, left some shots out on the course, particularly on the greens, which left room for growth with the postseason looming.
“I had four of the kids on the current team while I was coaching,” Bitner said. “They are a solid team with some impressive wins this season. They have a lot of depth and I really enjoy watching them. They are poised and composed out on the course.”
The Lakers have three more tournaments scheduled before heading up to Gaylord to compete in this season’s regionals.