Golfing at Sunnehanna Country Club is nothing new for Joe Cavalier and Brady Moran.
Cavalier won the club championship in 2012, which earned the Ebensburg resident a first-round starting time Thursday at the 60th Sunnehanna Amateur Tournament for Champions.
Moran, a recent graduate of Richland High School, is the reigning Greater Johnstown Open champion. That tournament was contested at Sunnehanna and Moran’s finish gained him entrance into one of amateur golf’s signature events.
“Having the opportunity to represent Johnstown, where I’ve lived my entire life, is a great honor. This tournament is legendary,” Moran said after completing the first round with a nine-over par 79. “I could feel it at the first tee, and I was just happy to get my drive off the tee. After that, I got settled in.”
Chances are none of the 83 competitors know the course better than Cavalier, who finished with a first-round score of 80.
“I really didn’t feel like that was an advantage. Really, (the other players’) games makes up all the advantage I might have being here,” said Cavalier, who added he’s been a member at Sunnehanna for 9-10 years. “The course plays differently.”
One thing Sunnehanna membership provided for Cavalier during the first round was an absence of jitters.
“It was fun. I had a great time,” Cavalier said. “I thought I would feel worse, but I felt pretty good for my first time playing in this.”
Moran, who will golf at Indiana University of Pennsylvania this fall, is using the tournament as an opportunity to learn from some of the best college golfers. And, like Cavalier, Moran has hopes of playing into the weekend.
“This is by far the best competition I’ve faced. Every single person here is good,” Moran said. “If I hit smart shots into the greens, play position golf and make my five-footers, I hope to be around.”
When Ben Little, Sunnehanna’s course superintendent, arrived for work around 4:50 a.m., the rain gauge read four-tenths of an inch.
By 7:30 a.m., the gauge climbed to 1 1/2 inches.
From there, Little and the grounds crew worked feverishly to prepare the course for a noon start, four hours later than scheduled.
“It really was a Herculean effort by the staff,” Little said. “Some of these bunked were filled with water, and some of them were older bunkers that don’t drain.”
For those bunkers, members of the grounds crew stood by for an hour as water was pumped from the bunker before it could be raked.
“We were right up against it,” Little said. “We were only able to get the greens mowed once. Normally, you mow them four or five times for a tournament like this. Today, it was just a single cut.”
The players didn’t seem to mind.
“The course was in great shape for all the rain we got,” Moran said.
Walker Cup scouting
Among those walking the course Thursday was Jim Holtgrieve, captain for the United States team in the upcoming Walker Cup, an amateur tournament which pits the U.S. outfit against a team from Ireland and Great Britain.
The 2013 Walker Cup takes place Sept. 6-8 at National Golf Links of America in Southhampton, N.Y. and the list of Sunnehanna Amateur alumni who played in the event is a star-studded one. Among the names are George Burns, Don Cherry, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jack Nicklaus.
“I think this is one of the best, Classiest tournaments in the country,” Holtgrieve said. “The field is always very good. I come to make sure to have influence. I don’t pick the teams, but I have influence with the committee. I watch the guys play and how they manage their game and their demeanor.”
Holtgrieve added that Sunnehanna offers a perfect complement to National Golf Links. Both courses emphasize second shots, chipping and putting.
“We’re trying to find not only the best talent, we’re trying to find the best person to represent the United State of America,” Holtgrieve said.
Sports writer Shawn Curtis contributed to this report.