Ron Agostini

Top amateurs head to Del Rio tourney

Name a golf tournament in Modesto that will attract elite amateurs from 12 countries.

The list stops at one.

The international parade marches to Del Rio Country Club for the eighth annual Scratch Players Championship next Tuesday through Thursday. Not only is it a better-than-good tuneup for the U.S. Amateur the following week at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, it's also built its own first-class reputation. Ten players from Australia, four from New Zealand and four from France offer only a glimpse of the globe-trotting field.

"I think the quality at the top is better than the Canadian Tour event at Del Rio (in 2005)," said Stockton-raised Fred Solomon, the tournament director. "Other than the U.S. Amateur, this has been the best field for any tournament west of Michigan for the last six years."

You won't recognize the headlining names, but you might in a few years. Clemson sophomore Kyle Stanley is ranked seventh in the world, and Rick Kulacz, one of 10 Australians in the field, is ranked eighth. Closer to home, Cupertino's Daniel Lim, a member of the NCAA champion Stanford Cardinal, also has received an invitation.

Please note John Merrick, who tied for fourth last weekend at the Reno Tahoe Open, nearly won the 2003 Scratch Players at Stevinson Ranch. And another Scratch Players grad is Fresno State's Nick Watney, a PGA Tour winner this year.

Del Rio incorporated a tribute to amateur golf into its 60th anniversary celebration. The Scratch Players was a perfect fit for a club that has produced 1957 State Amateur runner-up Dick Giddings and, today, Jeff Burda.

"The Canadian Tour was so well received by our membership that we want to have some higher-level tournaments," said Del Rio member David Halvorson who joins Burda and Jay Ward as club entries. "Our foremost goal is to make sure Del Rio is playable and is in the best condition for our members. But if we're still going to remain one of the premier clubs in the valley, we're going to have to have events like these."

Burda, 54, is easily the oldest player in the field of 87. Many a younger opponent has bowed to Burda's relentless tee-to-green game.

This summer alone, the Modesto bank president tied for second at the NCGA Stroke Play Championship, competed in the U.S. Senior Open and, Monday at Del Rio, romped to medalist honors (71-68 — 139) at the U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifier. He overcame a double-bogey and bogey finish and still was two strokes clear of everyone. His appearance at Olympic will be his 11th at a USGA tournament.

"All (those USGA events) with not very distinguished results," he said, "so we're looking for a little better this time."

But before the Amateur comes the Scratch Players.

Del Rio's Oak and Bluff nines tap out at 6,837 yards, a bit short for today's young bombers. One compensation will be the reduction of par to 71, as the short par-5 seventh will play as a par-4. Another will be quick greens that should pace no slower than 11 on the Stimpmeter.

Two years ago at the Canadian Tour stop, 16 under par was the winning score. Four years ago at Stevinson Ranch, Texas Tech's Andrew Dresser claimed the Scratch Players' first prize by going 14-under. Birdies will be found at Del Rio, but how many remains to be seen.

About 15 berths in Monday's member-am tournament are available to the public. The $150 fee includes the 9 a.m. tee time and dinner. Del Rio Manager Duncan Reno also seeks those who are interested in housing players. Providing food or transportation is not mandatory. Call Reno, 545-0723, for more information.

THE SHAG BAG — Modesto's Shawnee Martinez, a regular in the junior 12-14 age group, won the girls overall title at the Oakdale CC Junior Classic this week by shooting a 72. ... Marina Martinez, Shawnee's older sister, won the longest drive competition at the Big I Insurance Tournament in Boise, Idaho. She hit one 325 yards, 100 yards longer than any girl and only 25 yards shorter than the biggest-hitting boy. ... The Northern California team at the Junior America's Cup — Modesto's Ken Miller and Diablo Grande Director of Golf Shane Balfour served as captains — tied for third behind Oregon and Washington last week at Morgan Run in Rancho Santa Fe. ... Patrick McIntyre, son of former Creekside superintendent Daniel McIntyre, was awarded a $1,500 grant as part of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America's Legacy Awards program. McIntyre is a student at UC Santa Barbara.

HOLES-IN-ONE — Vince Sciabica, Modesto, 109-yard 12th at Stevinson Ranch, pitching wedge. ... Ladena Jones, Modesto, 123-yard third at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, 6-iron. ... Dave Banducci, Oakdale, 160-yard 15th at Spring Creek CC, Ripon, 7-iron. ... Floyd Hopper, Atwater, 12th at Stevinson Ranch, 9-iron.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at"> or 578-2302.