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Best of the non-pros to have their time at Del Rio

Del Rio Country Club will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year with a salute to amateur golf.

So why not welcome the best amateurs in the world?

With that, Modesto's only private club will be the host for the eighth Scratch Players Championship on Aug. 13-16. An elite field of 84, all but five who earned their berth by building an impressive golf résumé, will test Del Rio's tree-lined fairways and fast greens.

"Our whole theme this year is to support amateur golf," said Duncan Reno, Del Rio manager. "We've had good amateur tournaments played at our club over the years. The timing couldn't be better to do it again."

Del Rio has welcomed such events as the U.S. Junior Girls, the U.S. Senior Women's Amateur and the Women's Trans National (twice). Its membership also stepped up when the Canadian Tour came calling in 2005.

The Scratch Players will take its own special place, however, on that list. Local golf observers remember the high caliber of play when the event was staged in 2002 at Diablo Grande and 2003 at Stevinson Ranch.

"This will be the best amateur field anywhere near Modesto. It's better than the Mid-Amateur or the Public Links," tournament director Fred Solomon said. "I know we have the top amateur field the last five years west of the Mississippi."

Solomon, a San Francisco resident raised in Stockton, likes to bring his tournament to the area near the site of the U.S. Amateur. Sure enough, the Scratch Players will become a tuneup for the U.S. Amateur the following week at San Francisco's famed Olympic Club. It also fits the overall theme for Del Rio, one of the sites for U.S. Amateur qualifying Aug. 6.

"We've shown our support for professional golf, but wanted to do something this year for the amateurs," Reno said. "We've always had great amateurs at our club."

Del Rio member Jeff Burda, one of Northern California's top players for many years, tied for 12th at the 2002 Scratch Players, three spots behind Modesto's Matt Bettencourt. Modesto's Marc Peterson tied for sixth last year in Minnesota. Ceres' Ryan Thornberry tied for ninth in '03 and tied for 13th in '04.

"Our tournament has notched up every year," Solomon said. "The Royal and Ancient ranks us as the 15th-best amateur tournament in the world."

Other things to know about the Scratch Players:

Five 2005 Walker Cup entries, including 2006 champion Rhys Davies of Wales and East Tennessee State, spiced the field last year.

Three current PGA Tour pros — Nick Watney, John Merrick and Kevin Stadler — have played in the Scratch Players.

Thirteen nations were represented in the 2006 Scratch Players field.

Sixty Scratch Players "graduates" have turned pro and are competing on various international tours.

Potential sponsors, player hosts, volunteers and member-am contestants on Aug. 13 are asked to contact Solomon at 415-614-0322 or Reno at Del Rio at 545-0723. For more information, visit scratchplayers.org.

THE SHAG BAG — The Northern California Golf Association Foundation, which has doled more than $1 million in grant funding to youth development since its beginning in 1989, has awarded $8,000 to The First Tee of Modesto. ...

An 18-hole putting course, located at the Woodbridge Del Webb housing development north off Lathrop Road north of Manteca, will be unveiled Saturday at noon with a putting clinic, live music, food and gifts. The course, described as a one-of-a-kind venue in the area, features synthetic turf and holes varying between 24 and 81 feet. About 1,200 plants, shrubs and trees line the "fairways," and spokesman Tony Hallbourg says it "will be fun for both beginners and advanced players." The par for the 898-foot course is 22-24—46 with eight par-2s and 10 par-3s. Call 239-3099.

HOLES-IN-ONE — Wayne O'Donnell, Modesto, 173-yard fifth at Dryden Park, 5-iron. ... Robert Gunn (86), 103-yard 13th at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, 8-iron. ... Kris Anderson, Oakdale, 87-yard 16th at River Oaks, Ceres, 7-wood. ... Robert Stene, Turlock, 103-yard 13th at River Oaks, pitching wedge.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reachedat ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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