BEMIDJI -- One week each summer is unlike any other at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. An army of 300 golfers is proof of that.

About 300 participants will partake in the 97th annual Birchmont Golf Tournament from July 26-31, Bemidji’s match-play tournament that pits annual favorites against hopeful contenders in a mega-celebration of the sport.

“I think it’s special every year,” said Rick Grand, the head professional at BTCC. “It’s our premier event, and so many people look forward to getting back to Bemidji and to the Birchmont Tournament.”

The event survived through the pandemic without major disruptions last summer, but Grand said things should still look a little more “normal” this time around.

“It is a little different coming off a COVID year,” he said. “We were able to do most of the things that we normally do for events last year, but we lost out on a couple social things and special activities. … We had a great tournament in 2020, but we’re looking for even better this year.”

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Many of the favorites will fill the fields. All seven of the 2020 champions will return this summer, with the junior winners moving up a division and all others back to defend their titles.

“Everyone knows a handful of names, and they’re expected to do well, but that’s part of the fun. Can you go beat one of those top two or three players?” Grand said. “And in a one-day match, boy, a lot of things can happen.”

Most notably, Johnny Larson and Emily Israelson are returning after respectively winning the men’s and women’s divisions in 2020. Larson’s victory complemented his wins in 2007 and 2011, while Israelson’s title was her third in a row and fourth overall.

Emily Israelson, left, and runner-up Madison Herzog go to hug on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, after Israelson won her fourth Birchmont women’s championship at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Emily Israelson, left, and runner-up Madison Herzog go to hug on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020, after Israelson won her fourth Birchmont women’s championship at the Bemidji Town and Country Club. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Executive champion Joe McKean is back to defend his victory from a year ago, as are Paul Court in the senior men’s division and Jeff Tweeton in the masters division. Junior 13-17 division champ Rylin Petry aged out into the men’s division, and Junior 10-12 winner Preston Miller graduates into the Junior 13-17 field this year.

“We have a lot of loyalty to our tournament, so many of our participants come back year after year,” Grand said.

Not only are many champions and contenders back in the fold, but the openings filled up “the quickest that we’ve ever had,” Grand said. In 2019’s pre-pandemic year, all the open slots filled up by the end of May. This year, it only took until mid-April.

It’s no surprise that the tournament is in high demand, and Grand is thankful for the opportunity to tee off on the week with such an avid hoard of supporters.

“It’s very rewarding for me,” he said. “It is a lot of work, but it’s a fun break in the golf season when we get to do something different. If people have a good time here during the week, it makes me feel good. And it makes it rewarding for the work we put in.”

Qualifying rounds begin Monday, July 26, and run through Tuesday, July 27. Match play begins Tuesday for the Junior 10-12 division, and Wednesday, July 28, for all other divisions. Match play continues through Saturday, when champions will be crowned in all divisions.

The action is all open to the public to witness, and Grand welcomes the community participation with open arms.

“I would encourage people to come out and watch. There are a lot of great golfers,” Grand said. “If they haven’t participated or haven’t had a chance to come and see what goes on here during the week, take advantage of the opportunity. It’s a fantastic tournament.”

The 97th annual Birchmont schedule

Monday: Qualifying rounds for men’s, men’s senior, men’s executive and junior divisions.

Tuesday: Qualifying rounds for women’s, masters divisions; second round for men’s, men’s senior, and men’s executive divisions. Match play begins for Junior 10-12 division.

Wednesday: Match play begins for all championship divisions. (Men’s letter C, D, E flights, men’s executive regular and junior 10-12 divisions do not play.)

Thursday: Match play continues for all championship divisions. (Men’s letter A and B flights, senior regular, masters regular and junior 2nd and 3rd flights do not play.)

Friday: Match play continues for all championship divisions. (Women’s regular, junior champ, and junior 1st flight do not play.)

Saturday: Match play finals for all divisions.