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Baker Hill Administering New England Amateur Golf Exam

Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Newbury, n.h. — Hanover’s Nate Choukas didn’t become a member at Baker Hill Golf Club this year with the New England Amateur in mind. But it isn’t going to hurt his chances for a good week.

Choukas, the former Hanover High School golfer heading into his sophomore year at Trinity College, will take to the private Newbury, N.H., track this morning along with 155 of the region’s best for the 86th edition of the N.E. Am. Play begins off split tees at 7 a.m., and Choukas is among a half-dozen Upper Valley competitors in the field.

“It’s a long course; everything benefits me,” Choukas said last week after caddying for his younger brother, Phin, in the New Hampshire Amateur at the Mount Washington Resort. “I’m long off the tee and maybe a little more erratic than Phin, but they’re wide fairways. You have to miss pretty big to lose a ball there, which is nice.

“I think some people are going to struggle with the greens there. They’re really tricky. They’re fast, they’re undulated and they’re big. You can hit a kind of bad iron shot into one of the greens and still end up being on the green, but it’s a tough two-putt. Knowing the greens is a big advantage.”

Staging the three-day, 72-hole championship marks a hosting high point for Baker Hill, a private equity course above Lake Sunapee’s eastern shore. A 260-acre plot of farmland purchased in 1998, Baker Hill opened its first nine holes in 2001 and had all 18 in service by the following year.

“I think there’s been a lot of interest in some of the members to host an event, and recently there’s been more interest than in the past,” director of golf Mark Ashton said on Monday. “I don’t know if they were looking for this or they (the New England Golf Association) approached us, but the timing was right, so here they are.”

It’s the NEGA’s first visit to the Granite State with the regional championship since 2009, when Massachusetts’ Matt Parziale won at Portsmouth Country Club. The New England Amateur visited the Upper Valley just two years ago, when Grantham’s Evan Russell grabbed the title at Killington’s Green Mountain National Golf Course. Before that: Connecticut native Brent Paladino’s win in the rain-shortened 2007 championship at the Quechee Club.

Park of Baker Hill’s unique character, Ashton said, is its ability to tailor the course to the skills of players. With seven sets of tees, a Baker Hill round can range from a benign 4,500 yards to a spirit-testing 7,200. The NEGA will set up a course in the 6,900-yard range for this week’s tournament, which will include a 36-hole final day for the top 40 golfers and ties after Wednesday’s second round.

Renowned New Jersey-based architect Rees Jones designed Baker Hill, adding to a hefty resume that includes such redesigns as Minnesota’s Hazeltine National, Maryland’s Congressional, North Carolina’s Pinehurst No. 2 and Long Island’s Bethpage Black, past U.S. Open courses all.

While his reputation extends to the professional player, Jones constructed Baker Hill to make it member-friendly first of all.

“The fairways are generous, but you’ll pay for your errant shots if you hit it left or right with deep rough and well-placed bunkers,” Ashton said. “It’s a beautifully designed course that took a lot of work to get started. New Hampshire has a lot of rock under the surface, and Rees did a great job of finding how to cut in 18 fantastic holes.”

Ashton pointed to the 15th and 16th holes as potential round-breakers. The 15th is a reachable par-5 in the 500-yard range, while the 16th — at a maximum 377 yards — could be set up as a driveable par-4.

But both also boast the only water on the course, down the left side in both cases.

“Fifteen is a par-5 with water that fronts the left of the green 100 yards and in,” Ashton said. “On 16, a well-placed tee shot is important. You’re looking at a green that’s small for a short par-4. You might be able to reach it, but it’s whether you’re able to hold (the green) or put your drive in the right place.”

The field includes defending champion John VanDerLaan, a 19-year-old native of Waterbury, Conn., and a sophomore on the Florida Southern College men’s golf team. Six shots back after 36 holes, VanDerLaan shot 67-70 on the final day to beat New Hampshire’s Nicholas Pandelena by three strokes last year at Winchester (Mass.) Country Club.

Four winners from New England’s six state amateurs this summer — Connor Greenleaf (New Hampshire), Alex Rainville (Vermont), Nick McLaughlin (Massachusetts) and Evan Grenus (Connecticut) — are in the field. In addition to VanDerLaan, Russell and Parziale, past New England Am champs Christopher Swift (2012), Brian Higgins (2010), Brad Valois (2006) and Craig Steckowych (2001, at Quechee) will also tee it up this morning.

The Upper Valley contingent includes Russell, Lake Sunapee’s Nick MacDonald (Lebanon High), Newport’s Scott and Matthew Killam, Lake Morey’s Zach Temple (Hartford High), former Dartmouth College golfer Davis Mullany and Choukas, who was the NESCAC rookie of the year at Trinity last fall. Having the New England Amateur at his new home course is just a fringe benefit

“It think it’s just a good time for us to do it, because I’m in the middle of my college career and Phin is starting to peak with his career,” the elder Choukas said. “It was a good time to join a club that’s going to help both of our golf games.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.

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