New Haven Country Club hosts the 84th Connecticut Open Championshp
It would be foolish, if tempting, to characterize the 84th Connecticut Open as an extended version of New Haven’s club championship. But if you’re handicapping, it’s not a bad place to start.
The list of the club’s competitors this year (amateurs and professionals) comprises a tournament of its own and suggests several contenders:
- Ben Conroy, the 2018 Connecticut Amateur Champion who will play in a group with two former Open champions, Adam Rainaud of CC New Canaan and Kyle Gallo of Manchester CC.
- Mike Kennedy, the 2017 Mid-Amateur Champion.
- Ben Day, the 2015 Russell C. Palmer Cup Champion, who last weekend won the club’s stroke play championship.
- Patrick Lynch, the current club champion.
- Ron Soccoli, Jr., a member of this year’s winning Julius Boros Challenge Cup team.
- Shepard Stevens, former Tri-State and Boros Challenge Cup team member.
- Mason McCool, former Division 3 Star at Kenyon College in Ohio, now a Yale graduate student, who tied for second in the club’s stroke play event.
- Raymond Ippolito, another perennially competitive amateur.
On the professional side, the “home team” includes:
- Evan Beirne, holder of the club’s course record, a former member of the PGA Tour Canada, who continues to pursue a competitive pro career.
- Bill Wallis, New Haven’s home professional, a member of the PGA Challenge Cup team.
- Billy Street, past assistant professional at New Haven (now head professional at Whitney Farms) and the 2017 Connecticut PGA Champion and also recent winner of the Walter Lowell PGA Tournament.
“I’m very proud,” said Wallis of the New Haven “team” in the Open. “This is a club of some very good golfers, not only the ones playing. The whole membership I’d say is above average.” And that, says Wallis, gives the home team a leg up.
“I’d say it’s a huge advantage,” he said. “New Haven does not beat you up tee to green, but knowing where to put the ball on the green is critical. Most of the greens are divided into three sections. If you’re in the right section, you’ve got a chance for birdie; the birdies are there. But if you’re not in the right section, it’s a challenge to two-putt.”
Wallis cited No. 2, 7, 13 and 17 as greens where this was particularly true, and particularly apt examples of the brilliance of architect Willie Park, Jr., who created the present layout in 1921. “Willie Park was all about the greens,” said Wallis. “He said a player who could putt could match anyone.”
Besides the “New Haven 10” some other storylines and pairings to consider:
Two former Open winners at New Haven will compete:
- Ken Green, 5-time PGA Tour Winner from Danbury, who won here in 1985, and Jim St. Pierre of Newtown CC, who won at New Haven when it last hosted in 2002. They’ll play together with club champion Lynch in rounds 1 and 2.
One Group, Four Opens
Two other past champions, Frank Bensel of the Century Club and Mike Gilmore of Winged Foot Golf Club, will play with Mike Kennedy of New Haven. Bensel won in 2009, 2011 and 2014. Gilmore won in 1997. Kennedy is the defending Connecticut Mid-Amateur Champion.
All three players, Jeff Evanier, Jason Thresher and Max Theodorakis who squared off in the aggregate 3-hole playoff in the 2017 Connecticut Open at Ellington Ridge Country Club are competing at New Haven.
- Defending champion Evanier of Clinton Country Club will play with 2017 Connecticut Amateur Champion Richard Dowling and Bobby Gage, who has played on both the PGA and Champions Tours, and who won the 2018 Connecticut Senior Open.
- Three-time Massachusetts Open Champion Thresher of West Suffield is paired with Beirne and Southbury native John VanDerLaan, the 2018 NCAA Division II Champion.
- Theodorakis of Danbury, who in July alone has tied for third in the New England Amateur and qualified for the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach goes with professional, Pete Ballo of Silvermine, and amateur, Dave Giulietti of the Golf Club of Avon—all three having won Low Amateur honors in the Connecticut Open, Ballo in 2014, Giulietti in 2016 and Theodorakis last year.
The Challenge Cup ‘team within the team’
Two key players in the CSGA amateur side that took back the Boros Challenge Cup after six years this spring will play together. Brian Ahern of Wampanoag, winner of the 1999 Connecticut Amateur, 2010 and 2012 Connecticut Mid-Amateur, and 2018 Palmer Cup is paired with teammate Kyle Nolin, the 2016 Public Links Champion from Tallwood Country Club. They’ll play with Country Club of Darien Head Professional Cory Muller.
The Runners-up Group
Paired together is group of past Connecticut Amateur runner-ups that includes 2016 runner-up Corey Birch, 2017 runner-up Evan Grenus, and 2018 runner-up Elias Gross. Grenus did win the Amateur in 2015, and also won the Connecticut Junior Amateur in 2014.
The All-UCONN Group
There are many collegiate stars in the field. But only one group is All-Husky. Professionals Cameron Mackay of Brookfield and Chris Wiatr of the Country Club of Waterbury will play with UCONN sophomore Chandler Morris, also of Waterbury.
New Haven’s Legacy
Home field advantage is not everything, especially at a course that has, over the last century plus, hosted so many CSGA championships: The Connecticut Open, a record eight times, the Amateur 14 times (the latest in 2013), and numerous Julius Boros Challenge Cup matches. The best players in the state know New Haven pretty well, if not quite as well as the members. They understand that its major defense is not length—it will play to about 6500 yards, par 70—but difficult Willie Park greens and the sandy hazards that he placed strategically around them.
Founded in 1898, New Haven Country Club is celebrating its 120th anniversary in 2018. The club has been home to many notable members including Eli Whitney III (grandson to the inventor), Henry Sargent, Winthrop Bushnell, Frank Bigelow, Henry Hotchkiss, Walter Camp and the 27th President of the United States, William Howard Taft.
The Connecticut Open
Conducted by the Connecticut State Golf Association, the Connecticut Open is a 54-hole, stroke-play event with a total purse of $50,000 and a professional winner’s check of $12,500.
The Open Championship is one of more than 20 championships conducted by the Connecticut State Golf Association. The CSGA functions as an extension of the USGA and provides stewardship for amateur golf in Connecticut. Founded in 1899, it is the country's oldest state golf association and conducts a total of more than 50 championships, qualifiers and one-day tournaments throughout the year. For more information, visit our website at csgalinks.org.