Entering its 48th year, the conditions for this weekend's Coca-Cola of Durango Navajo Trail Open Pro-Am are as good as they get."The course is looking, people have told me - and I'm only in my fourth year of the Navajo Trail Open - but the course is the best, maybe ever," said Hillcrest Golf Course club professional John Vickers.
Assistant club pro and Fort Lewis College golf coach Bud Andersen said the velocity of the greens is a rocket-fast 11 on the Stimpmeter, and it should be about 11.5 for the tournament.
"Any faster than that, and it could be too fast," he said.
That challenging speed is ideal, believes Vickers.
"They're firm, fair and fast," Vickers said. "They're not too soft and not too hard."
Warmer temperatures nearing 80 and a slight chance of rain are expected, but Vickers didn't want to talk about the latter. His fingers are crossed there won't be a drop.
"For us, it's the focal point of our season at Hillcrest," Vickers said. "It's our crown jewel. We get really geared up for this event."
Gone is last year's champion - Boyd Summerhays of Farmington, Utah - but Andersen said the full field is nonetheless stronger than it has been the last two years.
Last year's runner up and Durango High School alumnus Ken Carpenter - who lost on the second playoff hole to Summerhays - will return, as will Alamosa's Jay Osmon, a former champ who went into last year's final day with the lead.
"I'd love to win, obviously," said Carpenter, who works as a club pro in Phoenix. "I had a little (back) injury, and I haven't played a whole lot, but I'm striking it pretty well. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could win the tournament."
Other returning champions include Mike Northern, DHS alum Bobby Kalinowski and Montezuma-Cortez High School golf coach and Conquistador club pro Micah Rudosky.
Vickers tabbed Rudosky pupil and MCHS alum Shea Sena to challenge after contending in recent years, and Andersen expects FLC alum Jeremy Lederer to raise eyebrows after winning last year's San Juan Open.
Two-time champion Tom Kalinowski is first on the waiting list to enter the field. He waited to gain entrance to the U.S. Open through sectional qualifying and applied at the last moment.
Vickers also thinks a couple of recently turned professionals out of the University of Colorado will compete for the title.
Derek Tolan and Pat Grady shared CU's Male Athlete of the Year honor for all sports in the 2008-09 school year, finishing as honorable mention PING All-Americans.
Tolan played in the U.S. Open as an amateur the last time the major was played at Bethpage Black, in 2002.
Defending amateur champ and FLC standout Luke Tanner will be back to defend his six-shot victory in 2008.
First prize is $5,000. The total purse is $23,000 for professionals, and $46,400 including the amateur payout.
In today's pro-am field, each team of three amateurs will group with a pro and compete against each other as the pros chart their course for the following 54-hole tournament, starting Friday morning.
Spectators are welcome throughout the event, though golfers are advised that the course will be closed for play. Hillcrest is still looking for a handful of volunteers.
If you're willing to contribute at any time of the day from Friday through Sunday, contact Hillcrest at 247-1499 and ask for John Vickers.