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Vermont Open Gets a Later Start 

  • Lake Morey Country Club assistant pro Patrick Pelletier waves to a passing car while walking up the second fairway yesterday’s Vermont Open low-gross tournament. The 54-hole tournament starts today. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Lake Morey Country Club assistant pro Patrick Pelletier waves to a passing car while walking up the second fairway yesterday’s Vermont Open low-gross tournament. The 54-hole tournament starts today. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Golfers work on their putting before the Vermont Open’s low-gross tournament at Lake Morey Country Club yesterday. The 54-hole tournament starts today. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Golfers work on their putting before the Vermont Open’s low-gross tournament at Lake Morey Country Club yesterday. The 54-hole tournament starts today. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lake Morey Country Club assistant pro Patrick Pelletier waves to a passing car while walking up the second fairway yesterday’s Vermont Open low-gross tournament. The 54-hole tournament starts today. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Golfers work on their putting before the Vermont Open’s low-gross tournament at Lake Morey Country Club yesterday. The 54-hole tournament starts today. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Fairlee — Lake Morey Country Club golf professional Bill Ross Jr. has hosted the Jeff Julian Memorial Vermont Open for 25 years. There’s little he hasn’t seen.

So what passes for change comes with a certain shrug of the shoulders. For instance, there’s the timing of this year’s tournament, a 54-hole event that begins this morning on the par-70 Fairlee course.

Normally a pre-Father’s Day tournament prone to losing a golfer or two to the U.S. Open, the Vermont Open finds itself starting in the USGA’s wake for once. Ross also welcomes about 160 pros and amateurs to Lake Morey the week after the Massachusetts Open; the schedule has usually operated the other way around, with Vermont serving as New England’s first state open of the competitive season.

It can be a dance choosing a date to play, but it’s usually a waltz come tourney week.

“There’s two things that happened this year,” Ross said on Friday at the Lake Morey clubhouse. “One is that we really want to have the Vermont Open about the middle of the month. The calendar creeps toward losing a day here and there every year. (Mid-June) is when we really want it.

“Also, the Mass (Open) wanted an earlier date. It was a perfect situation for us then to go and coordinate with them and also get closer to the middle of the month.”

The 54-hole event commences shortly after 6:30 a.m., with a first-place check of $7,500 awaiting the winner. The top 60 players and ties after the second round advance, along with as many as 14 amateurs.

It’s the latter category that has undergone the greatest amount of change over the quarter-century of Ross’ Open stewardship. When he started working at Lake Morey, Ross — a past competitor himself — would usually welcome fellow teaching pros and the occasional out-of-stater competing on a mini-tour come Vermont Open week. As amateurs’ skills have improved, so has their presence at the Open, which has twice crowned amateur champions.

“The amateur golf is interesting,” Ross said. “For instance, the scoring for amateurs last year was low, and you didn’t even cash a gift certificate (as a prize-winning amateur) unless you shot par for three rounds of golf. … Now what I have is a lot of (NCAA) Division I, good amateur players filtering into the tournament, so the caliber of golf has gotten a lot better.

“What you’ve seen through the years is all these clubs have excellent junior programs. From these junior programs, a lot of these kids go on and play college golf. By the time they graduate from college, their tournament experience is tremendous. Therefore, what we’ve seen is a lot of better younger players that have filtered into the Vermont Open, and that is probably one of the major changes.”

It’s a strong possibility one of those young guys will carry a big cardboard check home with him Wednesday evening.

It happened last year when Rich Berberian Jr., Pinkerton Academy grad and assistant pro at Derry’s Hoodkroft Country Club, grabbed his first professional victory. Berberian is back to defend his title; two other former Vermont Open winners, Michael Welch (2010) and John Elliott (1996), have also returned in search of second victories.

Elliott is back for the first time since finishing second to Welch three Junes ago. The former PGA Tour pro tied for 10th at the Mass Open last week; two other top-10s from that event, Abbie Valentine (T-10) and Eric Dugas (T-4) are in the Lake Morey field. J.D. Guiney, David Schuster, Mark Purrington and Welch come to Fairlee after top-six performances at summer season-opening Cape Cod Open on May 29-30, a tourney limited to 18 holes by rain.

Among familiar faces, Lake Morey assistant Patrick Pelletier, last year’s Vermont Golf Association player of the year, and Killington’s Brian Albertazzi (T-18 at Cape Cod) offer the best possibilities. The amateur field includes Grantham’s Evan Russell (Kimball Union/Univ. of Hartford), Lebanon’s Zach Pollard (Lebanon HS/Bentley) and the usual smattering of recent high school grads and current college golfers.

Ross has come to expect that kind of competitive mix. The date may be a little off, but given the economics of being a resort operation, Lake Morey won’t ever move the Vermont Open beyond the month of June.

“It is strange, but I think it’s good,” he said. “When you’re up in Vermont, it takes a while to get the grass really growing. It depends a lot on the spring, the temperatures. My feeling is the later I can have it in June, the better chance I’ll have the golf course in the best shape that we can.”

Also on the Tee: Hanover’s Peter Williamson begins his summer of top-level amateur competition this week at the Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford, R.I. An invitee last year, Williamson gained automatic qualification thanks to wins at the North & South Amateur in North Carolina and the Southern Amateur in Arkansas last year. Williamson finished last year’s Northeast Am tied for 23rd at 2-over-par 278 for the 72-hole stroke-play tournament. Play begins on Wednesday. … Today marks the New England Interscholastic Golf Championship at Keene’s Bretwood Golf Course. Woodstock’s Lauren Mayer and Mid Vermont Christian’s Henry Sherman made the field as a result of their play in this month’s VPA state tournaments. Lebanon’s Colette Schmidt will also participate, having made the field last fall by finishing second at the NHIAA girls golf championship at Campbell’s Scottish Highlands. … Green Mountain National’s Garren Poirier is scheduled to play in a 36-hole U.S. Amateur Public Links qualifier at Bretwood on Wednesday. Make the most of it: The USGA is phasing out the APL next year in favor of a national four-ball championship.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.

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