Golf tourney celebrates centennial
One thing has been constant in Portland golf.
Through hickory and graphic shafts.
Through knickers and plus-fours and flannel trousers and knitted shirts and wild plaids and name-brand sportswear.
Through three-hour walking rounds and five-plus-hour corporate outings.
Through economic crises and even world wars.
The Portland City Golf Championships have played through them all.
On Saturday, the annual tournament tees off again at Eastmoreland Golf Course — its 100th rendition.
The first city championships were in 1918, a year when neither the U.S. Open nor the U.S. Amateur were played due to World War I. Of 99 city tournaments, 98 have been at Eastmoreland (one went to Rose City due to construction at the Southeast Portland jewel, which borders the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden and is a mere wedge shot from Reed College).
The first city champion, John Rebstock, also claimed the title in 1919 and 1921. He was a prominent subject for local newspaper scribes of the period.
The top players in the area dominated the city championships in those early years, a time when golf was more of a regal pastime and Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen were legends of the game (Hagen played an exhibition at Eastmoreland in 1922).
D.F. "Doc" Willing won at Eastmoreland in 1920 and 1922.
Frank Dolp, an icon in his day, won in '23 and '24. One of four noted golfing brothers, he also won the Western Amateur, a major national event in that era, and defeated the legendary Chick Evans in a semifinal match.
Over the years, galleries of several hundred to a thousand or more would quietly and respectfully roam the fairways, crowds peaking for the weekend 36-hole men's match-play finals.
The daily newspapers, which used to report regularly and at some length on local golf, often put the tournament coverage on their sports covers. Being assigned to Eastmoreland was a fairly plum assignment for a young scribe to be trusted with, through late in the 20th century.
For most of its life, the tournament was a weeklong match-play affair, and it used to offer points toward spots in the prestigious Hudson Cup, an annual event between top pros and amateurs.
Match play at the "City" ended in 2006.
"Financially, you can't take the hit of having your course basically closed for a week," says Rob Cumpston, who manages Eastmoreland with his brother, Clark. "And, people are just busier these days. They can't take a week off work to come play in a golf tournament."
This year, the city tournament takes place over two days, concluding Sunday — and it's 36 holes of stroke play. It again will have two divisions (gross and net), for men and for seniors (age 50 and older).
Women used to have a bracket as part of the tournament, too, but turnover was relatively low, and interest waned so much that it's now for men only.
Not that the folks at Eastmoreland wouldn't like to change that.
"The women seem to prefer best-balls and scrambles," Cumpston says.
The women did play at another muni, Heron Lakes, for a while, but the tournament died out, and the people at Eastmoreland aren't even sure what happened to the perpetual trophy that was given to the women's winner.
"We're trying to find out who has it," Cumpston says.
While any male amateur in the world can enter the city tournament, the names on the trophy list are like a who's who of local amateur golf over the decades.
There's Dick Iverson, Ryan Ferry, Dick Estey, Lou and Chuck Stafford, Tab Boyer, Tom Lillejolm, Tom Marlowe (who became pro at Eastmoreland), Rick Roskopf, Jack Schneider, Nick Rodgers, Kevin Beavers, Anthony Kang, Steve Krieger, Jason Wood and many others.
And, last but always first in the memories of oldtimers, there's Ben Hughes, an Eastmoreland legend for years and one of several multi-time city champions.
Hughes, a meat cutter by trade, drew large crowds of followers from the men's club and neighborhood when he would battle for the title. The trophy bears his name on more than the lines of annual winners — across the bottom it reads, "In memory of Ben Hughes."
Drama used to unfold on a daily basis in the fierce match-play rounds, and the finals were typically tense and/or unusually memorable.
One year, a local favorite, Steve McDonald, was leading on the final nine in pursuit of the elusive crown, only to get hit with the shanks and come up short.
Another year, a surprise finalist, Jim Black, went into the finals as a big underdog to Portland State golfer Mike O'Toole — and O'Toole closed out the match in just 20 holes, winning 18-and-16.
The 2016 winner Riley Elmes, from Lake Oswego High, currently plays for Loyola Marymount.
The city championships used to consume the course in mid-July, typically at the time of the Open Championship, one of golf's four majors. A recent change to the Fourth of July week seems to be working. Even though some people plan to be out of town or do other things, the new date keeps the city tournament from conflicting with club championships at other courses in the area.
While Eastmoreland isn't a long track, especially by today's standards, it demands precision off the tee and touch around the greens. Trees, back-nine water and breaking putts are prominent features — and watch out for the ducks and geese that frequent the fairways, enjoying the greenery and water as much, if not more, than the golfers.
The course can play hard, fast and tough — when the U.S. Public Links took place at Eastmoreland in 1990, the 36-hole cut for 64-man match play came at a tournament record-high of 158 (14-over-par).
Conditions will be much easier for the city championships, but par isn't likely to take a horrible beating.
"It'll be set up difficult, but fair," Cumpston says.
The modern course record — since the trees have matured — is 8-under 64, set last year in a men's club round by Chad Sawyer, a former Oregon State golfer. He eagled the back-nine par-5s (holes 11 and 13) and came home in 31.
Eastmoreland was the first municipal course in Oregon, with the mayor and city officials showing the foresight to buy 150 acres of pasture land and hire one of the world's top architects, former national amateur champion Chandler Egan, to design the course for its 1918 opening.
One hundred years later, Eastmoreland will be ready on July 1 for those aiming to bring it to its knees, or to at least defeat the other comers.
"The course should be in great shape," Cumpston says.
Last year, more than 150 golfers entered the city championships. Organizers believe the number will be a little higher this year.
"It's been growing over the past couple of years," Rob Cumpston says. "For a lot of guys, if they're going to play in one event a year, this is it."