Eugene Country Club: A place for championships

By Ron Bellamy | Golf, Oregon |

The USGA returns with another championship, the Men’s Senior Amateur

EUGENE — In August, yet another national golf championship, the USGA Men’s Senior Amateur, will be staged at Eugene Country Club, a place that cherishes history and high drama.

After all, the tree-lined fairways may still echo with the roars that erupted in the 2016 NCAA men’s championship, when a local kid, Sulman Raza, sank a 6-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole to give the University of Oregon men’s team its first national title.

Hundreds of spectators lined the fairway and ringed the green. The Golf Channel cameras captured a chef, in full kitchen garb, on the distant clubhouse roof, watching the action down the fairway.

“People still talk about it,” longtime ECC member Jon Anderson said. “Just how exciting it was. They remember the chef on the roof, how good the course looked, the hometown hero.”

Including the women’s NCAA championship held the previous week, Eugene Country Club has hosted four NCAA championships (men’s in 1959 and 1978), and its big-event history dates to 1952, when Al Geiberger won the National Junior JC Championship.

The Senior Amateur, Aug. 25-30, will be the fifth USGA championship hosted by Eugene.

Anderson caddied at the club’s first USGA championship — the 1964 Juniors won by future PGA Tour star Johnny Miller.

Then in his early teens, Anderson looped for Hubert Green, an eventual U.S. Open champion, who reached the match-play semis.

“He had this funky old putter,” Anderson recalled; he remembers an ECC assistant pro giving Green a tip, telling him to take the putter back lower on the lightning-fast greens.

“I forget which round it was, but Hubert Green, with me carrying his bag, beat Jerry Heard on the 20th hole,” Anderson said. “I can’t remember the first 18 holes but I sure remember the playoff holes.” That’s because Green made a 30-footer to extend the match, and a 20-to-25 footer to win it.

“The putting tip helped,” Anderson said.

A regular site for the Pacific Coast Amateur, Eugene Country Club hosted the USGA Mid-Amateur Championship in 1993, the Women’s Mid-Amateur in 2002 and the Women’s Amateur in 2008.

Most of the major events have followed the 1967 redesign by Robert Trent Jones Sr., who took the 1926 routing by H. Chandler Egan and reversed the course, putting the first tee where the 18th green had been, along the way creating significantly larger greens and adding bunkers.

“The old course wouldn’t have handled it,” Anderson said. “The old greens were quite small, they were single slope, so there were only a few pin placements.”

Jones didn’t touch the course’s iconic tall firs, or disturb the undulating fairways shaped by years of flooding from the nearby Willamette River; those distinguishing features and Jones’ artistry have made ECC a somewhat regular fixture in top 100 rankings.

Certainly, no private club can host such championships unless the members surrender their course in prime season, but club members believe that the major tournaments maintain the club’s national relevance.

“The members have embraced these amateur championships,” general manager Rich Spurlin said. “The culture here in the club supports it, and not every club can boast that.”

Said Anderson: “There’s a notion of giving back to the golf world; we’ve got a really fine golf course with a lot of history.”

Qualifying for the 156-player Senior Amateur, open to golfers 55 and older with handicaps of 7.4 or better, will begin in mid-July, with Northwest sites Tacoma Country & Golf Club and ECC itself, on July 30.

The tournament will be the first to showcase the club’s $11.8 million clubhouse renovation, which was completed last year and dramatically improved views from the dinning areas. The club has retained Patrick Siver, of Beaverton-based gEvents, to serve as championships coordinator. Siver, who formerly worked for Jeff Sanders Promotions, has worked operations on USGA championships and, for almost two decade, the Boise Open.

For the Senior Amateur, Siver has reserved part of the club as a player’s-only lounge, recognizing that many of the players are repeat contenders, and thus renewing old friendships, and scheduled the traditional dinner for The Club at Autzen Stadium, the University of Oregon’s football venue.

“A majority of these players are coming from clubs around the United States,” Siver said. “For them to go home and be able to sit in their 19th hole and say ‘wow, I’ve always heard about Eugene Country Club, but that clubhouse they have now, they’ve got a complete 100-percent world-class facility. …’ And the USGA has paid staff of 25 who will work it, there will be about 70 committee members, and most of those folks are not only avid golfers but members of private clubs.

“One of the goals for the club is to maintain the relevance of Eugene Country Club as a venue of national championships quality, and we’ll have a neat opportunity to showcase the venue.”

Originally appeared in Pacific Northwest Golfer Magazine, May 2018.

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