Vermont Open returns home to Lake Morey Country Club for first time since ’18

  • Pat Pelletier, of Lebanon, N.H., center, lines up his putt while playing at Lake Morey Country Club golf course during the first round of the 2012 Jeff Julian Memorial Vermont Open in Fairlee, Vt., on June 11, 2012. (Valley News - Theophil Syslo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Theophil Syslo

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 6/20/2021 10:11:19 PM
Modified: 6/20/2021 10:11:21 PM

FAIRLEE — On the one hand, the competitor numbers are down. On the other, so are a lot of trees.

The Jeff Julian Memorial Vermont Open is putting a premium on less is more this week. The golf tournament, which hasn’t been held at its Lake Morey Country Club home in three years, is still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of a smaller-than-usual field of competitors. Those who will hit the 6,024-yard track for the first of three rounds on Monday will be greeted by a course that is more open than ever before.

Lake Morey director of golf Justin Bonnett is happy to simply have the championship back home. Aside from losing last year to COVID, the 2019 event had to move to Woodstock Country Club because of significant winter kill on Lake Morey’s greens.

“It’s exciting,” Bonnett said last week. “It makes it logistically way easier to run and manage. It keeps everything together. With the course being in great condition, I’m really excited to welcome everyone back to see the product and take it pretty low.”

Shorter than most championship courses, Lake Morey has relied on typically tiny New England greens and fairways lined with prison-worthy pine trees as its defense. The latter are lesser in number these days.

The Fairlee resort underwent a tree-trimming project the winter before COVID hit, with 50 to 60 pines falling to chainsaws. The work created more open space around the second, eighth, ninth, 14th and 18th greens, putting surfaces that have historically been slow to recover from winter.

The thinning around 14 is particularly noteworthy. Lake Morey’s toughest hole — and the only one lacking a sand trap — used to force golfers to stay to the right side of a narrow fairway, lest a wayward drive left leave a wall of trees between landing spot and green. The putting surface still slopes away toward an adjacent pond, and Bonnett doesn’t feel the tree removal changes the hole’s character, or that of the course, much.

“It makes the course easier, and the bombers are going to really like having an easier look,” he admitted. “I guess it’s hard to say. It just creates a little faster play. Visually, it’s extremely different from what we’re used to seeing.”

That means a lower score may be required to claim the winner’s check come Wednesday afternoon. A 54-hole tally in the 8- to 12-under realm might not be enough.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see slightly lower scores this week,” Bonnett said. “It depends on the weather. If the greens are soft, if they get a little rain on Monday and Tuesday, the scores will be significantly lower. You can stop the ball from any distance.”

There will also be fewer competitors trying to shoot those low scores.

A field of 82 professional and amateur golfers will hit Lake Morey on Monday for the opening round. The lineup is smaller than the 100-plus that usually fill out Bonnett’s tee sheet and significantly less than the monstrous fields of around 200 that competed in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. Bonnett attributed the lower attendance in part to the closed U.S.-Canada border; the tourney draws 15 to 20 Canadian golfers annually, he said.

The tournament schedule is also working against the Vermont Open, as it often does. The Cape Cod Open, which usually prefaces Vermont by a couple of weeks, has been bumped back to September this year. The prestigious Massachusetts Open had its usual full field of 150 at Fitchburg’s Oak Hill Country Club last week; Matthew Campbell, of Clifton Park, N.Y., is the only golfer who finished in the top 20 at Oak Hill (T-9) who is on the Vermont Open tee sheet for this week. The PGA Tour is also staging a qualifier for an upcoming minor-league Korn Ferry Tour event in Maine on Monday, draining Lake Morey of potential pro talent.

Several Vermont Open regulars — Eric Egloff, Kerry Johnston, John Elliott — have returned. The amateur field remains intriguing, with former U-32 High standout Bryson Richards (Rhode Island), Thetford Academy graduate Erik Lindahl and two-time New Hampshire Mid-Amateur champ Ryan Kohler in the crowd.

Be it fewer golfers or fewer trees, the return of the Vermont Open brings with it a little bit of the unknown this week.

“We’re running the event the best we can with what we get and figure out ways to grow it in the future,” Bonnett said. “Let’s see where we want to proceed from here.”

Chip Shots: Live scoring will be available at; click on the golf tab. ... The Korn Ferry qualifier is being staged at The Ledges Golf Club in York, Maine. The Live and Work in Maine Open begins on Thursday at Falmouth Country Club. ... Elliott (1996) is the only former Vermont Open champion in the field at Lake Morey. ... Chris Wiatr, who won the 2019 Vermont Open at Woodstock CC, is currently ranked 18th on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica points list through four events.

Greg Fennell can be reached at 727-3226.

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