Locals looking to snap ‘Classic’ drought

Kitchen Creek will be centre stage this weekend as 120 of the region’s top golfers compete in the annual “Classic” tournament, which goes Saturday and Sunday beginning at 8 a.m. each day.
Two-time defending champion Aaron Loken of International Falls will make the short trip north to defend his crown. He won last year after carding a clutch four-under par 68 on the final day to snag the title from local golfer Greg Ward by one shot.
Ward had held a five-shot lead heading into that final round.
A local golfer has not won this event since 1994 when Fort Frances native Rob Badiuk captured the title.
Greg Ross, head greenskeeper at Kitchen Creek, is the only other Fort product to taste the top spot in the last 12 years, capturing the crown in 1989 and 1990.
Up until the last two weeks, Ward had been competing in tournaments left and right, including a win at the Dryden Invitational and a top 10 finish at the Smokey Bear Invitational over in the Falls.
But after coming in 11th at last month’s Clarica Manitoba Amateur Open and thus failing to earn a berth to the Canadian Amateur Championships, Ward said he has been staying close to home and working on his game here.
“I guess I’ve had some confidence playing out of town,” he said. “The only thing that helps you in playing out of town is when you come to your home course, you’re just expecting to do well.”
Other local talent looking to break the seven-year drought for a “Classic” win–and take home the grand prize of a video camera and replica trophy–are Bob Crowe, Frank Redford, Snake Krawchuk, and Jim Ballard.
Krawchuk said he relishes playing against the region’s best here.
“It’s just a nice tournament. I play golf all year just to play here,” he said. “You meet new golfers and it’s just a fun time all-around.”
Despite Loken’s recent success at the “Classic,” Krawchuk is confident Ward will be hard to topple.
“The guarantee is that the man to beat is Greg Ward,” he said. “I think someone will have to beat him to have a chance.”
As for commenting on his own chances after finishing in the top five the last two years, Krawchuk added, “I think if I play my game and don’t get excited, I’ll be around my 74 or 75 average.
“I should be around be there in the end.”
But non-locals will be keen on winning again. Besides Loken, Smokey Bear champ Eric Walls, Shane Mann from Red Lake, and Winnipeg’s Rob Speirs are among the top amateurs scheduled to compete.
Mann will be looking to improve on his fifth-place finish last year, when he finished 14 shots behind Loken.
“It’s one of the biggest tournaments in Northwestern Ontario,” he noted. “The track is good and the greens are fast.”
He added he’s come in second at other regional tournaments, including the Red Lake Open and the Dryden Invitational (a loss to Ward by two strokes).
He said the greens at his native Red Lake Golf and Country Club pale in comparison to the ones here, noting he’s had problems adjusting to these and other strong greens.
“It’s probably a disadvantage for me coming from my course but it’s just a matter of time getting used to the quicker greens,” he reasoned.
Meanwhile, the Kitchen Creek course has recovered brilliantly after last week’s vicioius storms that ripped down about 100 trees and left it a flooded mess.
Since then, the greens staff has worked diligently to clear trees and the cart paths for this event.
“The course is in beautiful shape,” noted Ward. “The best I’ve seen it.”
The Classic was known as the Rainy Lake Open until 1976 when Kitchen Creek Golf Course opened and took on its current name. Former organizer Ian McLennan said the tournament is almost as old as the Rainy Lake golf lineage, which celebrated its 75th anniversary last month.
Sight and Sound is sponsoring $10,000 worth of audio and video equipment for anyone who gets a hole-in-one on the par-three #11 on Sunday.
Various prizes also will be given out in the “furthest drives” and “closest to the hole” contests.