Brendan Stasiewich

TEAM FROM BELVEDERE WINS RBC PGA SCRAMBLE NATIONAL FINAL

INVERNESS, Nova Scotia – The common refrain when it came to the idea of “victory” during the first two days of this week’s RBC PGA Scramble final at Cabot Cape Breton in Nova Scotia was that everyone assembled here had already won.

Which made sense.

A paid-for trip with great pals to Canada’s best golf resort for the right to vie for a national championship is pretty sweet indeed. Paid-for, but well-earned too, with each team surviving two qualifiers to get here.

Ultimately, however, all golf tournaments crown champions, which meant the intensity was ratcheted up a notch for a few teams during Tuesday’s final round. Whereas revelry reigned supreme on Sunday and Monday, there were some extra exhales on the first tee for the boys in contention. This team tournament is all about fun, sure, but when you put yourself in position to win, you sure as heck want to seal the deal.

Early on, that didn’t look to be the case for Team Belvedere, the 36-hole leader. The squad of New Brunswickers Ryan Thurrott, Mark Brown, Adam McGaghey, Colin Armstrong and P.E.I. pro Jamie Moran had no mojo during their opening four holes. All gross pars on the scorecard and not a terrific display of tee shots.

Thurrott described he and his mates as “extremely tight off the start.”

Up ahead, Team Black Mountain, comprised of Keenan Hall, Sandeep Sandhu, Amar Munjal, Armaan Khangurra and PGA pro Greg Forbes, had nosed ahead, with the fivesome from Saskatchewan’s Valley Regional Park — Brad Nemish, Aaron Thomas, Lane Buswell, Dustin Smolinski and pro Conner McGill — charging as well.

The conditions were ideal on Cabot Links with a cloudless sky, the week’s warmest and just enough wind, at least in the early going, to wreak havoc.

Belvedere turned the tide with a birdie on the par-3 fifth and on Cabot’s “Harbour Hole,” the par-4 sixth. They carried that momentum for a long stretch of holes until they reached the 14th, a gorgeous par 3 played to an infinity green backed by the Northumberland Strait. Still needing two tee shots from Brown and one from Armstrong (each player must count three), they opted for Armstrong’s ball off the green rather than a straight-in 15-footer.

The long deliberation was indicative of the strategy that goes into this event as well as the pressure of the moment, and the resulting par put them two full shots behind Black Mountain.

But the beauty of scramble tournaments is that all winning teams get contributions from every one of their members. Still needing to supply two drives, Brown dipped into his past to rediscover a fairway-finding cut shot that he executed to perfection on the oceanside 15th and 16th holes. Armstrong rolled in a 50-footer for birdie on 15 while Moran saved the day with a net-eagle conversion from short range on 16.

That put them right back in the race standing on the 17th tee, but still needing birdie, net-birdie, on the last two holes to win. That’s when Moran hit one of the best clutch shots of his life, an eight-iron to a foot on the par-3 penultimate hole.

“That shot on 17, I’ll bottle that one up in the memory back and remember that one for a while the next time I have to hit an important shot,” said Moran.

Though they didn’t know it at the time, Belvedere needed just a two-putt from 20 feet for the victory on the 18th hole. Their reaction was therefore subdued upon holing out for par but turned positively jubilant once discovering they’d wound up on top.

“It feels awesome, I love it, best week ever. You can’t put it into words,” said Thurrott. “I love every one of these guys.”

For Moran, the head pro at Charlottetown’s Belvedere, which is still closed in the wake of Hurricane Fiona, the victory was extra special given the amateurs he had in tow. He is a veteran of many PGA of Canada tournaments over his career, but like the boys for New Brunswick, he can call himself a national champion.

“This one was fun, and to experience it with these guys, try to talk them through the jitters early on, they were trying a little bit too hard, but once we got rolling, we got a little bit more comfortable and I think it was actually better for us to know that we were doing a little chasing versus playing protection,” said Moran.

In the end, Belvedere finished with an adjusted score of -61.1. Valley Regional Park was second at -60.7 and Kelowna, B.C.’s Black Mountain was third at -60.3

While all 20 teams in the national final are going home with plenty of swag, both purchased and given, plus memories to last a lifetime, Team Belvedere received an extra-special prize for taking the tournament title. Courtesy of RBC, they will be VIP guests at next year’s RBC Canadian Open at Toronto’s Oakdale Golf and Country Club.


TEAM FROM BELVEDERE GOLF CLUB FIRES 57 TO TAKE LEAD AT RBC PGA SCRAMBLE

INVERNESS, Nova Scotia -- There are two schools of thought regarding the weather when you come to play golf at Cabot Cape Breton Resort.

On the one hand, you want to experience some of the elements that make links golf so challenging — some cold and rain and especially some wind to force you into shots you are not accustomed to playing.

On the other hand, clear skies, sun and warmth would be awfully nice so you can delight in the jaw-dropping oceanside setting.

Participants in the RBC PGA Scramble national final have experienced both through two days. While Sunday’s opening round at Cabot Links featured strong gusts and frigid temperatures, Monday produced gorgeous conditions on Cabot Cliffs, such that smartphones were being used more to take photos than to check the tournament’s live scoring app.

“Today is a perfect day,” offered Danielle Labbe of Team Vallée du Richelieu while standing on the par-3 16th tee.

“It’s paradise,” added her teammate Nathalie Poiré.

Labbe and Poiré are at Cabot with their husbands, making them the most unique foursome in the final.

“For us to be here playing together is great because we play a lot together at home,” said Poiré’s partner, Jean Francois Turcotte. “We were surprised to win in Quebec because we never thought we could win playing against teams of all men.”

The foursome had been fortunate enough to visit Cabot previously, which is not the case for most teams.

Seated on the ever-present white couches behind Cabot Cliffs’ 18th hole, Matthew Swirsky, a Manitoban representing Ontario’s Kenora Golf and Country Club, said he couldn’t think of a better place to spend some time.

“What I like about Cabot Cliffs,” he pontificated, “is that the entire course looks like a putting green.”

To be sure, there is a lot of beauty in the wall-to-wall fescue fairways on both courses at Cabot.

“This is a trip of a lifetime,” said Valley Regional Park’s Lane Buswell, of Saskatchewan, while lounging on the next couch over. “To enjoy this with friends, you couldn’t pass this up for anything. It’s priceless.”

And then there is the fivesome from Kelowna, B.C.’s Black Mountain Golf Club. After a second-round adjusted score of -26.1, the lowest of the day, Keenan Hall, Sandeep Sandhu, Amar Munjal, Armaan Khangurra and PGA pro Greg Forbes had unique plans, this being their first time to Canada’s east coast.

“A dip in the ocean and we’ll be ready to go. From the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, we have to make it happen,” said Munjal, who works in the insurance industry back in B.C.

Of note regarding Team Black Mountain, two of its members are relatively new golfers, with Khangurra, a student and club basketball coach, having picked up the game during COVID. Their high handicaps, combined with the strong play of Hall and Forbes, has proven to be a successful recipe.

The leader through two rounds, however, is Team Belvedere Golf Club, comprised by PGA pro Jamie Moran and New Brunswick natives Ryan Thurrot, Mark Brown, Adam McGaghey and Colin Armstrong. Their second-round adjusted score of -24.2 included three eagles on par 4s, two of the hole-out variety. They arrived at the par-5 18th tee needing one more drive from Brown, who promptly pulverized his tee ball down the middle of the fairway. Brown would then hole a birdie putt to give his team the lead.

“No nerves at all, it was the plan all along,” he deadpanned. “We were going to bring her down to the last hole and it was just my shot, it had to be done. It’s pretty much normal for me.”

“The weather was gorgeous, the course was gorgeous, it was an unbelievable day, the scenery out here, it was just beautiful,” added Thurrott. “We want to thank Archie, our caddie, doing a great job with us today. If it wasn’t for him out here, we might have been a little off-centre a few times.”

The teams will move back to Cabot Links for Tuesday’s final round, where Belvedere will try to hold off Black Mountain, third-place Valley Regional Park and first-round leaders, Hampton Golf Club, which slipped back to fourth on Day Two.


TEAM FROM HAMPTON GOLF CLUB IN NEW BRUNSWICK ON TOP AFTER FIRST DAY OF RBC PGA SCRAMBLE

INVERNESS, Nova Scotia -- A stiff wind at their backs and four of the five donning Cabot Cape Breton toques, Craig Younker, Mike Johnson, Mark Johnston, Nick Vautour and PGA of Canada professional Connor Shea kicked off the RBC PGA Scramble on Sunday morning at Cabot Links.

The shorter the commute to Cabot, the earlier the tee time in the first of three rounds, so the team representing the Hampton Golf Club outside Saint John drew the opening assignment.

“This might go 10 feet,” chuckled Vautour, an operator at Irving Oil and his squad’s leadoff hitter, before stepping to the tee. (He hit it farther than that.)

They are at the national final because Johnston, a procurement specialist at Irving, drilled a 30-footer for birdie on the 18th hole to win their regional qualifier at P.E.I.’s Mill River Resort by .2 points.

“Big underdog,” Johnston smiled before his group got going. “We weren’t supposed to win that. It feels like fate.”

And wouldn’t you know it, Team Hampton has the Day One lead here thanks to a scorching 19.5-under round.

“Off the tee we were pretty solid, putts were rolling really true out there,” said Johnston. “We sank some big putts that we probably had no business sinking but they were rolling really good today.”

“It was absolutely incredible,” added Younker, a dentist. “Just a different kind of golf that we’ve just never really had a chance to play before. Kind of adapting the way that you swing the club. The caddies really help and even having (Shea) coach us through, it was really, really cool.”

Hampton has a .4 lead over the squad representing P.E.I.’s Belvedere Golf Club, though that team’s four amateurs — Ryan Thurrot, Mark Brown, Adam McGaghey and Colin Armstrong —all hail from New Brunswick as well. They’re being led by Belvedere head pro, Jamie Moran, who joked that the boys came to P.E.I. to qualify because they weren’t welcome in their own province.

“It was very difficult out there,” said Moran of the conditions, “but we all made some putts, which was nice, and when we were in trouble, someone would step up and hit the shot when we needed it and it was just a great effort in these conditions. We’re ecstatic with it.”

Belvedere is .6 strokes up on one of two teams here from Cobourg, Ont.’s Dalewood Golf Club. There are fractions on the leaderboard because the tournament scoring structure is as such: Teams get 25 per cent of their lowest amateur’s handicap; 20 per cent of their second lowest; 15 per cent of their third lowest; and 10 per cent of their highest. Teams then get 75 per cent of whatever number that totals.

The system is designed to keep the handicapped event equitable and to negate ties, but while there is very much a championship on the line this week at Cabot Cape Breton, the joy of making a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the country’s greatest golf playground with your best pals is the heartbeat of the scramble.

“It’s kind of feeling like a kid again, competing, and it feels good, and to come out here and play really well, it’s been great so far,” said Team Belvedere’s McGaghey.

That was evident during the excitement at the Avion Collection Night Golf Challenge on Saturday and in the revelry in Whit’s Public House afterwards. There may have even been a few beverages cracked before any balls were hit Sunday.

“We’re stoked,” said Tyler Kristiansen of Team Talking Rock, which qualified out of Kelowna, B.C.’s Black Mountain Golf Club in mid-August, before his round. “We’ve been counting down the days for sure.”

Indicative of the various characters here this week, Team Talking Rock includes two squash pros among its four amateurs — Adam Terheege and Joey Forster. “Washed-up squash pro,” clarified Terheege, now a salesman in the Okanagan Valley. The native of England is in just his third year of playing golf but was a key cog in Talking Rock qualifying for nationals with his 29-handicap.

Standing on the putting green and taking in the setting of Cabot Links, Terheege said he’d never seen anything like it in his life.

“Can’t wait to get going,” he stated.

All 20 teams are going now, and tomorrow the drama will be ratcheted up another notch when they tackle Canada’s No. 1 course, Cabot Cliffs.