With May nearly upon us, the eyes of the amateur golfing world are focused on the annual gathering at The Club at Carlton Woods. A number of the top mid-amateur and senior players in the country are again scheduled to make their way down to the Houston area to take part in the Carlton Woods Invitational from May 2-4.
Included in this years deep field are the event’s defending champions; mid-amateur winner Colby Harwell and senior champion Lewis Stephenson.
“Both of the defending champions played so well last year, and Colby [Harwell] won it for the second time and [Lewis] Stephenson he was a new 55-year-old last year and he has done well in every event that he has played in so it was exciting to have some young blood in the Senior Division,” tournament director Marty Benson said.
After the Fazio Course served as the host track last year, the Nicklaus Course will be host course in 2017.
The Nicklaus Course is believed to be the more difficult of the two courses playing 3-4 strokes more difficult for the membership. From the tips the par-72 layout can be stretched to 7,402 yards and it features deep-faced fairway and greenside bunkering, a variety of flanking and frontal water hazards, sandy waste areas and boldly contoured greens. In total half of the holes on the course feature some sort of water hazard.
“The greens will be really fast and the course is in terrific condition and the staff will probably run the greens around 13 on the stimpmeter,” Benson said. “There are a lot of areas were if you miss the green there are a lot of tightly mown chipping areas and most of them are into the grain so it is really tricky. Even-par will be a good number for the tournament.”
The signature hole of the Nicklaus Course is the 455 yard par-4 15th. There is water along the left side and front of the green and players will breath a sigh of relief if they can mark down a four.
If the 15th is the signature hole, then the 18th might be the most exciting hole. The closing hole on the Nicklaus Course is a 548 yard par-5 that offers players the chance to reach the green in two. However, they will have to be careful because water guards the front right portion of the green. Many a tournament has been won with an 18th hole birdie.
Mid-Amateur Players to Watch:
David Bartman- The 2011 champion, Bartman has impressive resume finishing tied for seventh in the Trans-Mississippi Amateur in 2010 and reaching match play at the 2008 U.S. Amateur.
Dan Crockett- After not playing in the Carlton Woods Invitational for a few years Crockett is making his return in 2017. In 2007 Crockett finished as the event’s runner-up.
Joe Deraney- Making his first appearance at the Carlton Woods Invitational, Deraney is looking to find his form from a year ago. During the 2016 season, Deraney became a force on the mid-amateur circuit winning three AmateurGolf.com Rankings events: the Stocker Cup, Lupton Invitational and Timuquana Cup. In addition he picked up a victory at the Kentucky Mid-Amateur.
Brady Exber- Four-times Brady Exber has finished inside the top-10, but never has he has he won the Carlton Woods Invitational. Last year, for the second time in his career Exber finished the event tied for second. Exber, a force regionally and nationally, had six top-10 AmateurGolf.com Ranking event finishes in 2016 and in 2015 he won the Stocker Cup and Crane Cup.
Colby Harwell- The defending champion also won the Carlton Woods Invitational in 2013 and this year he will try to become the first repeat champion since Kevin Marsh accomplished the feat in 2009 and 2010. Harwell will also try to join Marsh as the only three-time winners of the event.
Craig Hurlbert- A member of The Club at Carlton Woods, Hurlbert was the club champion last year. Hurlbert tied for 12th in the Carlton Woods Invitational in 2016 and he was the 2010 Montana State Mid-Amateur winner.
Senior Players to Watch:
Mike Booker- One of the top players in tournament history, Booker has won the Carlton Woods Invitational twice (2011, 2012) and the Carlton Woods Senior Invitational once (2014). Playing at his home club, Booker finished tied for second in the event last year.
Michael Dunsmore- The caddy of Fred Funk, Dunsmore has played in the U.S. Senior Amateur each of the last two years making it to the quarterfinals in 2016.
Eddie Lyons- Last year Lyons put together a solid year with his best showing coming at the Trans-Mississippi Senior where he placed fifth. He also finished 13th at the George C. Thomas Senior and reached the Round of 32 at the U.S. Senior Amateur. Two years ago Lyons was fourth at the Carlton Woods Senior while previously picking up three top-three finishes in the Carlton Woods Invitational.
Jeff New- Former resident of The Woodlands now living in Scottsdale, New is search of his first win in the event. A year 2016 New was sixth and the year before that the runner-up. During the 2015 campaign New captured the Trans-Mississippi Senior title.
Mike Peck- A three-time All-American at Stanford, Peck is looking to break into the winners circle at The Club at Carlton Woods. In the last three years he has a pair of top-three showings; 2016 (T2) and 2014 (3rd).
Lee Sandlin- The last time the tournament was held on the Nicklaus Course in 2015 Sandlin won the title so he is in essence the host course’s defending champion.
Lewis Stephenson- The reigning champion also won the Texas Senior Amateur last year and finished sixth at the Crane Cup Senior.