21-team field tees off this afternoon
By DAVID MITCHELL
After a little more than a decade away, the Larry Gaither Hardaway Invitational is headed home.
While Gaither, the originator of the tournament, said that he considers the event to have a second home at Fort Benning now, it will relocate this year to where it all began -- the Bull Creek Golf Course.
The two-day tournament, now in its 39th year, will be played there beginning with a shotgun start at 2:30 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday.
And while the number of participating teams is down to 21 from the 25 at last year's event, coaches expressed excitement about the quality of competition this year and for the future.
"The golf course is normally in great shape this time of year, and it's a little more challenging from tee to green," said current Hardaway coach Alex Da
vis, who is in charge of organizing the tournament. "I think the kids will enjoy it more because of the place it's at. The tournament started at Bull Creek in 1976, so we're back home to the original site."
Davis said he spoke to management at Bull Creek last spring and again early this year, expressing the desire to move the tournament back to its original location. He added that the smaller number of teams at this year's tournament doesn't bother him because of the quality of the teams participating. And, he said, he expects to get more future interest in part because of the location change.
Columbus coach Chris Parker agreed about the quality of the teams.
"If you look at the field, it's a little deeper, a little better quality," he said, adding that Bull Creek is a better course and feels more like home to him.
"We're lucky to have a public facility that is one of the best around. I think you're going to see the field grow back and the quality and depth will keep getting better. That's what I think Coach Gaither's initial goal was: Not just the largest, but the highest quality field of any high school tournament in the nation."
While the quality of the Bull Creek course is rarely in question, there was some concern earlier in the week whether all the holes would be playable after heavy rains caused flooding around the area.
"We were worried a couple holes on the front side may have been washed out because of the rain, but the water has subsided and I think we should be fine," Gaither said.
Davis expressed his confidence in the conditions, as well, stating that he expects every hole to be playable on Friday.
As to the teams in the field, Columbus will try to defend its 2013 championship and become the first repeat winner since Glynn Academy in 2005.
While the Blue Devils graduated a handful of long-time varsity golfers after the 2013 season, Parker said his team does have a group capable of winning again this year.
"We're probably as good as last year and maybe a little deeper," he said.
The team is led by Stanton Schorr, who shot a team-low 72 in the second round of last year's tournament. Sophomore Patrick Edwards was also a member of the winning team last year.
The team has only played two tournaments so far this year, so Parker said there is still a lot to be learned about his squad.
Also in town, Brookstone, winner of five straight state championships, will take aim at its second title in three years. It finished third a year ago.
Georgia Tech signee James Clark and brother Mercer will lead the team along with Jack Mize.
The team is led by new coach Hunter Chapman, who said the team has developed nicely over the course of seven tournaments. It finished third three times in the first four, but has gone second, first and first in its past three.
Trinity (Ala.) will send two teams and will likely be in contention, along with 2013 runner-up Etowah.
Locally, Central, Hardaway, Northside and Smiths Station will also participate.
David Mitchell, Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports