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BIRCHMONT BEGINS: Brink shoots low round in first day of Men’s Championship qualifying

The Birchmont is underway and each year families center reunions around the event. Among the family members back this year are former Bemidji High School golfers (left to right) Joe Burgess, Rob Burgess and Mike Burgess. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 4
Carol and Ernie Pearson of Minneapolis watch Monday's first day of the Birchmont from the bench above the No. 18 green. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 4
Having golfed together at the Birchmont for more than 20 years, Rick Passolt, Pete Passolt, Tim Gruidl and Curt Howard pose for a picture before heading to the first tee during Monday's qualifying rounds. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer3 / 4
The Birchmont family traditions continued Monday as, left to right, Hunter Burnside, 12, Zach Skarperud, 8, Jacob Skarperud, 11, and Carson Skarperud, 9, head to the No. 9 green to greet their fathers. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer4 / 4

BEMIDJI — Conditions could not have been better for the Birchmont golfers who began their week-long tournament at the Bemidji Town and Country Club on Monday and among those who took advantage of the opportunity to shoot a low round was Bob Brink of Bemidji.

Brink won the Birchmont Men’s title in 2004, defeating Derek Rolle of Grand Rapids 1-up, and he used his experience and the perfect conditions to fire a 3-under-par 69 in Monday’s first round of the 36-hole qualification portion of the Birchmont.

“The course is in great shape,” Brink said after fashioning Monday’s 34-35-69. 

“Typically, in late July, the course can run hard and fast because of the hot July weather but right now the course is as good as I can ever remember for a Birchmont.”

Brink is a veteran of the Birchmont wars but last year he did not play, putting family ahead of golf.

“We had weddings and other commitments. Sometimes life takes over,” Brink said. “Playing this week was a matter of finding people to help watch the kids and coordinating schedules.”

Brink’s kids would have been proud of their father on Monday as he shot under par on each nine.

“Monday was one of those days when everything fell into place,” Brink said. “I was playing with a fun and a casual group, I was playing well and we all had a great time.

“It was nice to have a good round under my belt but in the Birchmont it is rare to see a guy who qualifies among the leaders be playing at the end of match play. But that’s the fun of the Birchmont.”

Tuesday’s second round of the Men’s Championship qualifying begins at 12:30 p.m. Brink will hit the first tee around 2 p.m.

Following today’s action the field will be trimmed to the top 32 and they will begin the match-play portion of the tourney on Wednesday.

“The goal of the first day is to put yourself in position to make the field,” Brink said. 

“I always take the good rounds when they come and Monday was a good round. Hopefully it can carry into Tuesday and then into match play.”

Executive Championship

Scott Hinners of Bemidji advanced to the 2012 Championship final before losing 2-up to Lee Hetletved of Grand Forks. 

On Monday Hinners gave notice that he could challenge again this week as he opened his Birchmont with a 2-over-par 74 in the first day of the Executive qualifying.

The lone Executive golfer to better that score was Jon Tollette of Ramsey who played in the last group of the day and posted an even-par 72.

In third, two shots behind Hinners, were 2011 champion Joe Burgess of Woodbury and Tim Gruidl of Edina. Tim Fiechtner of Fargo carded a 77 on the par-72 BT-CC layout while James Clark of Plymouth and Derrick Johnson of Grand Forks had 78s.

Completing Monday’s top-10, all with rounds of 79, were Dale Finck of Bertha, Ben Jurgens of Fergus Falls and Brad McEnroe of Minneapolis

Among the other area golfers who topped 90 in Monday’s opening qualification round were Russ Moen of Bemidji (81), Rick Barrett of Red Lake (87) and Bemidji golfers Dennis Nelson (88) and Tony Smiar (88).

Hetletved is the two-time defending champion and he did not have to qualify Monday. Derek Hasselberg of Princeton, who lost to Hetletved in the 2013 final, shot 81 on Monday.

Senior Championship

The most recognizable names to those who have followed the Birchmont through the years can be found in the Senior division and leading the pack after the first day of qualifying is Jeff Wiltse of Bemidji.

Wiltse’s resume includes consecutive Executive titles in 2002, 2003 and 2004. He also has been a constant title challenger in the Men’s, Executive and Senior divisions during the past decade.

Last summer Wiltse was the Senior medalist at 148 and he advanced to the semifinals where he lost 3 and 2 to eventual champion Daniel Gilman of Centennial, Colo. Gilman is back and does not have to qualify but on Monday the only two scores lower than Wiltse’s were posted in the Men’s Championship as Bob Brink shot 69 and Andrew Israelson carded a 70.

Another familiar name to area golf fans is Ray Sauer of St. Cloud who shot a 74 Monday, one stroke behind Derrik Clay of San Antonio, Texas. Brad Castle of Pinewood, who grew up in Bemidji, finished at 75 along with Tom Allen of Bemidji and John McEnroe of Woodbury, who also advanced to last year’s semifinals before losing.

Also breaking 80 Monday were Marc Redman of Bloomington (76), Dave Fox of Sanborn (77), Jack Larson of Clements (77), Curt Howard of Sapulpa, Okla. (78) and last year’s runner-up Jeff Tweeton of Perham (79).

Junior Championship

Nate Deziel of East Grand Forks claimed the top seed in the 16-golfer Junior playoffs as he shot 76 in Monday’s qualification round.

A new champion will be crowned as last year’s finalists, Gavin Loscheider and Austin Jensen, both from Grand Forks, have moved to the Men’s division.

The lone Bemidji-area golfer in the field is Leo Spry of Walker. He shot an 84 Monday and will face Keaton Gilbertson of Grand Forks in Wednesday’s match-play opener.

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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