The four-day tournament begins today on the par-72, 7,108-yard course, with the field of 144 cut down to the low 60 and ties after Friday’s round.
The Open features the top professional, mini-tour professionals and amateurs in the state as they compete to crown the top golfer in Georgia.
“It’s a real feather in our cap, and it makes a big statement to host this tournament at our course,” said Rob Williams, the head golf pro at Pinetree, who will also be competing in the event. “The course is in great shape. It’s difficult, but it has everything you want in a golf course and will identify the best player in Georgia.
“That’s what the Georgia PGA wants — a fair, but challenging, tournament, and that’s what this course delivers. Our superintendent, Bret Barton, keeps the course in fantastic condition. The greens are fast, but they’re fair.”
Although Pinetree is hosting the Open for the first time, it’s no stranger to big tournament events. Adjacent to Kennesaw State’s campus, the course hosts the Owls’ annual Pinetree Intercollegiate each October. Last year, the club hosted the Georgia Amateur Championship, and this year, it’s hosted several USGA qualifiers.
In order to host these big events, club members and volunteers are often called upon for assistance.
“The members have really embraced what we’re doing,” Williams said. “It’s good for publicity and marketing and branding of the club. It makes us look good to attracting new members and building awareness of what we have to offer.
“We’ll have volunteers out helping in a lot of different ways. They’ll carry roving scoreboards to keep the players up-to-date on the leaders and assist with finding balls and out-of-bounds markers. It takes a lot of work over the course of four days, and the maintenance staff will be hard at work keeping the course in tip-top shape.”
Several current and former Cobb County high school standouts will be in the field, including Kennesaw Mountain’s Jonathan Keppler, Kell’s Michael Hines and Zach Lindsey, Allatoona’s Jonathan Cook and Harrison’s Patrick Garrett. Current Kennesaw State golfers Kelby Burton and Jimmy Beck will be joined by former Owls Matt Nagy and Jonathan Klotz.
Keppler’s father, Marietta Country Club director of golf Stephen Keppler, is a two-time winner of the Georgia Open, claiming consecutive titles in 1994 and ’95.
Other locals include Mableton residents King Simmons and Brian Katrek, Acworth’s Rob French and Mark Avery, Kennesaw’s Rich Grote and Daniel Kim and Marietta’s Chris Nicol, Brian Dixon, Kyle Owen, Mel Mendenhall, Zac Tilton, Ted Fort and Ken Dixon. Craig Stevens, the teaching pro at Acworth’s Brookstone Golf and Country Club and last year’s Georgia PGA player of the year, will also be in the field.
“We’re very excited to host,” Williams said. “I don’t know how many clubs have hosted the Georgia Amateur one year and the Georgia Open the next, but I think to do that says a lot about our club, our members and how we do things here.”
Former Georgia State golfer Jonathan Fricke, the two-time defending champion, will not be in field because he’s now playing on the Web.com Tour.
Roberto Castro, a former Georgia Tech standout now on the PGA Tour and the 2009 Open champion, is playing, as is another golfer most notable for another sport.
Former Atlanta Braves great John Smoltz is playing the Georgia Open for the fifth straight year. He made the cut in 2010 and ’11, but a shoulder injury derailed him the last few years.
Two weeks ago, Smoltz finished sixth in the American Century Championship, the annual celebrity golf tournament that takes place at Lake Tahoe in Nevada.
Smoltz is slated to tee off with Williams and Katrek from the first hole today at 8:30 a.m., and from No. 10 on Friday at 1:20 p.m.
“I’m looking forward to playing with Smoltz,” Williams said. “It’s a really good group. Brian’s a (Pinetree) member, so I’ve played with him a lot. I’ve played with Smoltz before just for fun when I was the head pro at Valdosta (Country Club).”
In 2011, Smoltz competed in the Web.com Tour’s South Georgia Classic in Valdosta. He’s competed in the occasional golf tournament since retiring as a baseball player in 2009, making a few trips to Marietta Country Club for U.S. Open qualifiers.
Last weekend, Smoltz was in Cooperstown, N.Y., to see former teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, and his old manager, Bobby Cox, inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Many experts believe he could be voted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of members who will want his autograph before he gets to the Hall of Fame,” Williams said.