Amateur Golf: Field is set for 76th annual Pine Hills Invitational

2-time defending champ Baley Lehr, handful of past winners and ‘young guns’ highlight 95-man field

Baley Lehr tees off while other players watch during the Pine Hills golf tournament on Sunday, June 11, 2023 in Ottawa.

There are many story lines as about 100 golfers get ready to start play at the Pine Hills Invitational.

This weekend will mark the 76th annual Pine Hills Invitational at the par-70, 6,163-yard course at Pine Hills Golf Club south of Ottawa. The historic event is scheduled for 36 holes (18 on Saturday, 18 on Sunday) set to begin with the first groups starting at 6:50 a.m. Saturday. The course, which officially opened June 8, 1924, will also be celebrating its centennial birthday.

The tournament has seen its share of down-to-the-wire finishes, and, in fact, three of the past five tournaments have needed a playoff to decide a champion.

Two-time defending and three-time overall champion Baley Lehr returns to defend his title from last year when he shot a 2-under-par 138, one shot better than runner-up Jesse Cavanaugh. Lehr will look to become the first golfer to win the event three times in a row since Andy Mickelson (2010-2012).

“Baley has the experience, the mental game, and his sharpness on this course is going to be tough to beat again this year,” Pine Hills manager and tourney director Jeremiah Pike said Wednesday afternoon in the clubhouse. “It had been a decade since a player was able to win the event in back-to-back years, and now Baley has a chance to do that a third time. It will be exciting to see if he can do it.”

Pike said another storyline this year would be the pay out to the champion.

“A big change to this year’s tournament will be the winner’s prize,” Pike said. “Traditionally the champion received $750 in merchandise and the trophy, but this year it’s not only the trophy but $1,000 in cash. With the changes in college athletics [allowing college athletes to make money off their name, image, and likeness], we’ve been able make the change.”

The field also features 2021 champion Andrew Stineman, 2020 champ Ryan Cuitino, 2015 co-champ Gaberiel Aprati, 2009 winner Brian Lehr, 1998 victor JF Lafontaine, 2023 senior champ Scott Atkins, as well as top contenders Jeremy DeBernardi, Josh Gass, Brian Silvers and John Finnin. Pike said he feels 2023 Joliet amateur champion Samuel Mortell and Dylan Kisner, a very good golfer from Texas Wesleyan, have a chance to be in the hunt.

The “young guns” taking part in the event will be members of the Illinois Valley Community College team – former prep standouts in Streator alums Jaydon Nambo and Cole Park, as well as Ottawa grad Jonathan Cooper. They will be joined by current Ottawa players Seth Cooper, Bryer Harris, Jacob Bryson and Jacob Armstrong, as well as former St. Bede standout Jake Delaney.

Pike said the entries are a tick up from last year, but he’s still expecting a few more before Thursday’s noon entry deadline.

“We are at 95 entries as of right now,” Pike said. “We also have a quite a few ‘maybes’ out there and three or four that I think will be in, but I’m waiting to confirm. We may reach 100 or more golfers which would be fantastic.”

With an event like a golf tournament, weather always is a factor, and this year looks near perfect.

“The forecast as of Wednesday night predicts partly sunny skies, light winds and temperatures in the high 70s or low 80s both Saturday and Sunday,” Pike said. “The past few years it seemed we were talking about Plan B’s and Plan C’s leading up to the tournament with rain possible. Fingers crossed it looks like the weekend is going to be exactly what we and all of the golfers could hope for.”

Pike also wanted to thank everyone who has and still makes this a fantastic event.

“We have a tremendous grounds keeping group, a number of tremendous sponsors again this year, which we are thankful for, as well as a solid group of volunteers that make this tournament run smooth and do a great job,” Pike said. “Running a tournament like this has so many moving parts, so having so many people willing to help out in any way they can makes my job so much easier, and I can’t even say how much it’s appreciated.”

Live scores and leaderboard can be found at 76th Pine Hills Invitational.

Jesse Cavanaugh drives off the second tee during the 75th annual Pine Hills Invitational golf tournament June 2023 in Ottawa.
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