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Moves and countermoves: Vermont Open starts with Lake Morey’s Bonnett in new role

  • Lake Morey Country Club director of golf Justin Bonnett organizes the low gross tournament before the Vermont Open in Woodstock, Vt., on Sunday, June 16, 2019. The tournament was moved to the Woodstock Country Club because of conditions at four of Lake Morey's greens after winter damage. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Shawn Warren, left, takes a swing while John Elliot watches during the low gross tournament before the Vermont Open in Woodstock, Vt., on Sunday, June 16, 2019. The tournament was moved to the Woodstock Country Club because of conditions at four of Lake Morey's greens after winter damage. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Scott Berliner tees off at the beginning of the low gross tournament before the Vermont Open in Woodstock, Vt., on Sunday, June 16, 2019. The tournament was moved to the Woodstock Country Club because of conditions at four of Lake Morey's greens after winter damage. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Sports Editor
Sunday, June 16, 2019

FAIRLEE — Justin Bonnett’s first Jeff Julian Memorial Vermont Open championship as Lake Morey Country Club’s director of golf isn’t being held where Bonnett works.

As has happened at other golf courses around the Upper Valley, Bonnett arrived at Lake Morey this spring to the sight of greens damaged by winter kill. The harm was such that Bonnett had to move this week’s 54-hole tournament from its Fairlee home for the third time in the last 10 years.

Instead of eyeing the long par-3 that welcomes golfers to Morey, a field of about 120 professionals and amateurs will face a par-5 opener at Woodstock Country Club — and the 17 holes that follow — when the championship starts on Monday. Morey made the decision to move to Woodstock about a month ago, Bonnett said last week, when it deemed a return to tournament conditions unlikely for its damaged greens.

“The phenomenal winter we had, with a mix of snow, rain and ice, affected four of our greens, on holes 5, 6, 7 and 14,” Bonnett said. “We’ve certainly been through this before. I was concerned with hosting initially right as spring sprung, and we kept an eye on it.

“The weather was horrific, for a lack of a better word, for the month of May. Things weren’t filling in as fast as we needed to host an open championship. We weren’t satisfied. We certainly could have hosted it, but we weren’t feeling like our conditions would be 100 percent.”

Similar situations forced a move to St. Johnsbury Country Club in 2009 and to Green Mountain National Golf Course in Killington in 2014. Pivoting to Woodstock, however, gives competitors an alternative site that isn’t too terribly different than the usual.

Morey and Woodstock are similar in length — both a shade over 6,000 yards from the tips — and both play to a par of 70. They’re also both relatively flat. But where alleyways of pine trees dictate strategy on Morey’s narrow fairways, avoiding Woodstock’s ample water will be the main challenge this time around.

“Keep the ball in play; keep it below the pins,” Woodstock director of golf Matt Closter said. “We have some really small, sloping greens, and they will miss the greens at some point. So they have to make sure they are missing in the right location.”

Woodstock came through winter relatively unscathed, with one exception. Rain forced Kedron Brook — which runs through the length of the course — to overflow its banks on April 15. The ensuing flood didn’t significantly damage the course, but it did take out some of the 11 bridges that cross the brook. Closter said two of those bridges, by the 11th and 12th holes, haven’t been replaced yet.

“It’s a big event for us to host this,” Closter added.

It’s a big event for Bonnett to organize, even if he’s been tied to it for the length of his Lake Morey employment. The 1998 Thetford Academy graduate and former Rivendell Academy golf coach is in his 14th season at the course, moving up to director of golf when Bill Ross Jr., the resort’s head golf professional of some four decades, retired after last season. Ross remains on the staff in the Lake Morey pro shop.

“The hardest thing in taking over is I’m still in charge of my existing job; I’m still in charge of golf group sales and now I’m director of golf,” he said. “I’ve merged both of those together and received help with the front desk and saw other ways to balance it. It’s seems like a natural progression, with the relationships that I’ve built over the last decade or two. It’s nice to have some continuity.”

A new Vermont Open champion is more than likely this week. St. Johnsbury’s Alex Rainville, who picked up his first pro victory at Lake Morey last June, isn’t in the field, although 2017 champ Peter French committed to the field late last week. The only former champ at Woodstock, John Elliott, claimed his title 23 years ago, although he still finds a way to be near the top of the leaderboard every year.

That could open the door for a variety of pros. Jamison Sindelar, son of former PGA Tour and current Champions Tour player Joey Sindelar, tied for fifth in the New England Open at the Quechee Club two weeks ago and took fourth at last week’s Massachusetts Open. Bay Stater Mark Purrington shared the first-round lead at Quechee with a 5-under-par 66 and shared sixth place at the Mass Open. New York’s Matt Campbell came within a one-hole playoff of taking last month’s Cape Cod Open.

And Lebanon’s Pat Pelletier can’t be counted out. Picking up from last year’s New Hampshire Golf Association player of the year campaign, Pelletier was the low amateur at Quechee and took second in the NHGA’s season-opening Players Invitational at Baker Hill Golf Club on June 2.

The first two rounds of the Vermont Open will be played off split tees, the first and ninth, with action starting at 7 a.m. The top 60 players and ties will advance from the professional cut for Wednesday’s final round, with top scores getting a piece of a $28,000 purse.

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