Area Golf: Former resident shines at Classic

EAST GULL LAKE - RJ Smiley will always have a connection to lakes area golf. It's been years since Smiley owned the Mille Lacs Golf Resort south of Garrison, but the man who has dabbled in most everything golf related looked right at home Tuesday...

EAST GULL LAKE - RJ Smiley will always have a connection to lakes area golf.

It's been years since Smiley owned the Mille Lacs Golf Resort south of Garrison, but the man who has dabbled in most everything golf related looked right at home Tuesday at The Classic at Madden's.

Smiley carded a gross 32 in the stableford format to win the master division of the Minnesota Golf Association's Senior Tour Finals. That score was good for third overall between the three divisions, which also included senior and super senior. Smiley also placed eighth in the net category of the master division.

"First of all, this is a championship golf course and this was a great championship," said Smiley. "My round could have been better like everyone else's, but I did make four birdies and started out with a double bogey and hit it into the water a couple of times with my wedge.

"I love to play the Classic. The Brainerd lakes area is famous and its golf courses like this one and Cragun's and The Pines (at Grand View Lodge) make it that way and it's really fun to get up here and play."


Smiley and the rest of the 72-player field qualified for the final by advancing through one of four senior tour sections. The Northern Division and the lakes area was represented by Glen Hasselberg and Rollie Penfield of The Vintage at Staples and David Peterson of Grand View Lodge.

Hasselberg placed 11th with a net 32 and was 13th with a gross 25. Penfield landed in 20th with a net 28 and 20th with a gross 19. Peterson shot a net 24 to tie for 28th and placed 22nd in the gross division with a 16. All three were in the master class.

Steve Conway was the overall gross winner and swept both senior tour categories. Tom Kozlak captured the overall net title and the master net championship.

"All these guys have been playing golf all their are life, and actually some of them haven't," Smiley said. "Some of them have only been playing 30 years, but it's real golf. And my definition of real golf is when you hand your scorecard to somebody else and they're counting your score. There aren't any gimmies and if you hit it out of bounds, you're hitting three off the tee and it's real golf.

"The MGA keeps your scores and handles your scores so the handicaps are legitimate. There aren't any sandbaggers in this field so it's really a good group of guys. You get to know everybody."

Smiley reminisced about his younger days growing up in Kansas playing on sand greens and playing in a different tournament each weekend. He called the senior tour a "carbon copy" of that today.

Joel Comstock, senior tour director, said many other state golf associations are trying to carbon copy what the MGA provides for its seniors.

"Next year will be our 20th anniversary and I know when (Warren Rebholz) started there were about 140 guys and in the last three or four years we've been upwards of about 800," Comstock. "Just through great host sites and guys having a lot of fun and word of mouth it's grown quite a bit in the first 19 years.


"Just expanding to the north five or six years ago added another 150 guys who hadn't played in it before. We've also gone farther south in the state so we've gotten out of the metro. We also added a Super Senior division which is for 70 and older. So those are guys who started in this tour 19 years ago."

There were nine Northern Section tournaments during the summer at places like Minnesota National Golf Course in McGregor, Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge, Northland Country Club, Greystone Golf Club and Tianna. There are also a number of two-day events across all four sections.

Other Northern section qualifiers were former Brainerd resident Jeff Wiltse, Wayne Caughey, Thomas Peterka and Jeff Tweeton in senior gross. Joseph Bell, Steve Paumen, Dana Flinck and Jonathan Gust in senior net.

Last year's final was held at White Bear Yacht Club. Other sites included Somerset Country Club in Mendota Heights and Woodhill Country Club in Wayzata

"This is one of the best golf courses in the state private or public," said Comstock. "We had 72 guys and only four who couldn't make it so alternates got in, but that's very typical. Not one guy thought about not coming. Madden's put on a great show and allowed us to have practice rounds. Glenn Hagberg (head PGA professional at Madden's) is one of my favorite golf pros to work with. The hospitality was great here."

Senior Tour Final

Overall gross: 1-Steve Conway 34, 2-Mike Cleland 33, 3-RJ Smiley 32, 4-Mark Kennedy 32, 5-Thomas Peterka 31

Overall net: 1-Tom Kozlak 42, 2-Blair Witt 41, 3-Les Ernster 39, 4-Bob Casura 38, 5-Conway 36


Senior gross: 1-Conway 34, 2-Cleland 33, 3-Kennedy 32, 4-Peterka 31, 5-John Walsh 31

Senior net: 1-Conway 36, 2-Walsh, 3-Steve Paumen 36, 4-Kennedy 36, 6-Cleland 34

Master gross: 1-Smiley 32, 2-Charlie Whitcher 31, 3-Ernster 30, 4-Casura 30, 5-Jerry Lewis 28, 13-Glen Hasselberg 26, 20-Rollie Penfield, 22-David Peterson 16

Master net: 1-Kozlak 42, 2-Witt 41, 3-Ernster 39, 4-Casura 38, 5-Whitcher 36, , 11-Hasselberg 32, 20-Penfield 29, 28t-Peterson

Super senior gross: 1-Bob Gardiner 28, 2-Dale Brainerd 28, 3-David Haugan 25, 4-Jim Hiniker 25, 5-Dennis Haugan 25

Super senior net: 1-Brainerd 36, 2-Dennis Haugan 36, 3-Dennis Van Norman 34, 4-Gardiner 32, 5-Hiniker 31

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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