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Sweetness at Sweetgrass

by Mark Daniels

For the third straight year, the Sweetgrass Golf Club at the Island Resort in Harris, Michigan will play host to the Symetra Tour.   The Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is set for June 24-30.  Players will compete for over $110,000,00 in prize money and more importantly, take the next step on the road to LPGA. The top 10 money winners after the 15 stop tour qualify for the LPGA.  Last year, between the Symetra Tour and Qualifying School, the junior pro circuit advanced 19 players to the big leagues. Some of the top alumni include Lorena Ochoa, Christie Kerr and Stacy Lewis.

Thursday was media day for the Island Resort Championship and I took the 2 hour ride up north from Green Bay to tackle Sweetgrass but I was more impressed with the sweetness there to greet me.  The resort staff was admittedly over the top with hospitality.  This, after all is their Super Bowl.   It's easily the biggest event of the year for the hotel, casino and course which spreads out pretty much in the middle of nowhere in the U.P.    To promote the tournament, Sheryl Fish, the Manager of Tournament Business Affairs for the Symetra Tour was on hand, along with Tony Mancilla and Susan Harris, the co-chairs of the event.  After a nice lunch, it was time to play.

I was originally paired with a local star with a bright future.  Carly Saint-Onge is currently on the Michigan State golf team after dominating UP women's golf at Marquette High School.  She won three straight Upper Michigan championships and captured the match play title at her home course at the age of 14.  She'll play in the Island Resort Championship for the second time on a tournament expemption.  Carly was great helping me navigate the course, playing the tees that will be in play for the competition.  But navigating the course was next to impossible.  The beauty of the track was overwhelmed by the frigid, 43 degree temperature and even worse, the howling wind, steady and strong at 20-30 miles per hour.  Even dressed in layers, it was beyond chilly.   Carly finally had her mom rescue her in a cart on the 6th hole, but I pressed on.

In the group behind me was the feature Symetra Tour player in for the media day.  A striking brunette from the deep south, Stephanie Kenoyer.   The Florida native and former Furman University player braved the weather until we reached the turn and headed in to thaw.  That's when I got the chance to visit with her for a few minutes.  Kenoyer was a high school star who earned a scholarship to Furman but was more interested in law school than pro golf.  That is, until she qualified for the 2009 U.S. Womens Open.  Nervous and overwhelmed by the atmosphere, Stephanie had the shakes in her first round shooting an 81.   But she came back strong, a 71 on Friday, the 4th lowest score of the round, but missed the cut by a shot.  That round convinced her to take a shot at the tour full-time.  Playing the Symetra last year, Kenoyer made only slight inroads, but she delivered a 7th place finish early this season.  Still waiting for a break, Stephanie may have caught one, literally, when she auditioned and was casted in this spring's Golf Channel show, Big Break-Mexico.   Kenoyer is one of a dozen young men and women competing for big money and a spot in a future tour tournament.  Stephanie said the resort was amazing and the show was easily the biggest golf experience of her life.   She couldn't reveal how it works out because the series is still running, but said the most fun was beating 2 guys in the "Glass Break" challenge.  Next up for Kenoyer is this year's U.S. Open qualifier next week.

Both women were absolute delights, wish I could say the same for my game.  Sweetgrass is an outstanding track, visually impressive with large, treacherous and fast greens.  I did deliver a couple of highlights.  On the first hole joining Kenoyer's group, the par three, uphill and into the gale force 7th, I striped a three wood to 10 feet.  Get me on Big Break I thought.  Missed the birdie putt however.  The only bird I did get was with my five iron, grazing a sea gull sitting on the part 3, 15th island green.   Ultimately, it was the weather that was most notable as you can see by how bundled up Stephanie was on a green.   Stephanie and Carly each have warm and bubbly personalities along with a competitive fire that should serve them well.   Here's wishing them well and you can see  them for yourselves, at the Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass.   The 54 hole event comes after a pair of pro-ams on the final weekend in June and tickets each day are a more than reasonable 10 bucks.