When David Gardner took over as tournament director for the 59th Ridgefields Country Club Men’s Invitational, which begins today, he likewise took dead aim toward the task at hand.
Dwindling participation over the past couple of years had threatened the relevance of the tradition-rich tournament.
“We wanted to eliminate all barriers to players entering our tournament,’’ said Gardner, a former head professional at Ridgefields. “There was just too much at stake.’’
A dramatic reduction in the entry fee for the three-day TGA state points event and aggressively recruiting the top players across the state has paid huge dividends.
This year’s field has ballooned to 110 players, including eight-time champion Jeff Golliher from Knoxville.
He will be joined by defending RCC champion Alex Ratliff, as well as Chip Spratlin, who won this year’s Tillinghast Invitational at Johnson City Country Club.
The field is dotted with 2009 tournament winners including East Tennessee Amateur champion Richard Lowe and Graysburg Hills Am winner Brian Sangid. Bill Hardin, who won the 2009 Crossings Invitational and is a former Ridgefields member, will be among the favorites along with Carlson Cox, this year’s Greater Kingsport Amateur winner.
“We are very pleased with the turnout,’’ Gardner said. “What pleases me is that all the local high-quality players are playing. It should be very interesting to see who comes out on top.’’
Also entered is six-time runner-up Mike Poe.
The Senior Division, also a state points event, boasts one of the deepest fields in the tournament’s history.
Tony Green, who is returning to competitive play after an illness, will defend his crown.
Four-time open championship winner and two-time senior champ Bill Argabrite has entered the fray along with 2008 Tennessee Senior Player of the Year Jack Ramsey from Memphis.
Bob Clark, also from Memphis, won the RCC senior title in 2002 and ’04 and is entered as well.
Other senior entries of note include two-time open championship winner Rick Hudson along with three players from the Knoxville area — Rock Saraceni, Ben Long and Ron Waters.
As always, the Donald Ross-designed layout ultimately will determine which golfers are in their best form.
“Because of all the recent rain our rough is thick and will penalize errant shots,’’ current Ridgefields head pro Nodjya Cook said. “We’ll have the pins in places that will challenge the players. With the quality of the field for this year’s event we really expect some outstanding golf.’’
The three-day event, which also includes match play flights, concludes on Sunday.