Local golfers looking to tame Smokey Bear

The 47th-annual Smokey Bear Invitational will see four of the top local golfers–Greg Ross, Monte Ross, Greg Ward, and Jeromy Wensley–heading over to the International Falls Country Club this weekend.
Dubbed the Falls’ “premiere [golf] event” by club pro Tom O’Connell, the Smokey Bear attracts a good number of golfers who definitely aren’t there simply to win the grand prize of a gift certificate.
“I think whoever wins will be happy enough with claiming they are the Smokey Bear champ,” O’Connell remarked. “That’s the biggest thing.”
About 120 golfers, some from as far away as Texas, will take part in the stroke-play tourney, with the qualifying round tomorrow and then 27 holes of golf on Sunday to determine the champion.
There are a total of 15 flights, with the championship flight scheduled to tee off Sunday at 2 p.m.
The most experienced of the Fort foursome is Greg Ross. The greens superintendent at Kitchen Creek Golf Club here has competed in 20 Smokey Bears, with his last title coming in 1998.
He said it’s always challenging to ply one’s skills at other courses, particularly the Falls one.
“It’s different. Their greens are smaller,” said Ross. “It’s partly an old course but the new holes are more demanding.”
He added the par-five 12th will give most of the field headaches with streams and trees at such a close proximity.
Ward has had the most recent success there, bowing out to Falls golfer Eric Walls in a one-hole playoff last year after tying at even par after regulation.
The 23-year-old also is coming off a decent showing at the Canadian Club Champions Championship in Calgary last month, where he finished tied for 17th.
O’Connell admitted Ross and Ward will give their club veterans a run for their money.
“I think some of the best players come from Fort Frances,” he remarked. “Those Canadians will be tough to beat this weekend.”
There has been a healthy Fort contingent there over its 47-year history. Notable local players to compete and do well include the late Harry Barefoot, the late Harold Klyne, and veterans Bob Crowe and Ian McLennan.
The tourney itself was named after the Falls’ state park.
O’Connell said the July scheduling of the tourney couldn’t be at a better time.
“July is the time all courses in the north are in top condition,” he noted, including both his club and Kitchen Creek.
“The time of year when you can mow your greens all the way down,” added O’Connell.
“This is a great environment and tournament to be in,” echoed Ross.