Northern Michigan University’s Walter Ylitalo hits the tee during a Wildcats men’s golf meet held during the 2021-22 season. (Photo courtesy of NMU)

Newcomers include Valparaiso, Illinois State, Miami from Ohio, Toledo, North Dakota State and Southern Illinois in what is a division of the NCAA I meet at the exception of “local” entrance, Northern Michigan University of Division II.

Liberty won the first IRC in 2019, and non-returning Michigan State won the 2021 edition by 23 heavy hits over Central Florida.

The 12-team NCAA Division I field also includes the University of Michigan, which finished third last year, the University of Kentucky, which finished fifth in 21, the tournament host, the South Dakota State, which finished sixth last year, as well as Wisconsin-Green Bay. and Bowling Green.

Kentucky freshman Hunter Thomas, who finished tied for 39th here last year, was the only British player to start all 11 events in 2021-22. Kentucky, which appears to be the tournament favorite with seven comebacks, is led by Garrett Wood’s 71.55 average. His left-handed teammate Alex Goff averaged 71.97 last season, while Campbell Kremer averaged 72.89.

Michigan State’s Troy Taylor II, left, and James Piot hold up their medal plates after tying for low-scoring honors at the 2021 Island Resort Intercollegiate Golf Tournament at Sage Run Golf Course near Harris. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Justin St. Ours)

There is no charge for spectators to attend the tournament on Sunday and Monday, which is Labor Day. Teams have the chance to train on the challenging course on Saturday.

Tournament officials are looking for volunteers to fill various positions at the tournament. They can contact Dave Douglas at 906-723-2250 to help take spectators to different holes, scout and score points.

Competitors will include a pair of golfers from South Dakota State who have played the course frequently, second Tyler Kretz of Marinette, Wis., and freshman Bryson Mercier of Powers, a graduate of North Central Highschool. Mercier finished fourth in the recent UP Golf Association men’s tournament after finishing second last year. Mercier is one of four freshmen on the SDSU team.

Mercier said he was disappointed with his closing round at the recent UPGA at Pine Grove Golf Club in Iron Mountain, noting he had 15 pars and a bogey. “I really thought I had a chance to win” he said recently in front of a class at SDSU, adding that Pine Grove was a fair test.

“I played better than my score showed. It’s something to learn. Everyone fails at golf.

Mercier said he bonded with the other first-year golfers and was looking forward to qualifying for the Jackrabbits.

“I got to know the whole team. Everyone fits in” he said.

His goal is to enjoy school “And qualify (for the events) and be competitive and take it as you go.” Every member of the SDSU team will come to Sage Run.

South Dakota State’s connection to this tournament comes through Casey VanDamme, a Delta County native from Perkins who spent seven years as SDSU’s men’s and women’s coach and is now women’s golf coach at Kent State. . The Kent State Women recently won their 23rd consecutive Mid-American Conference title.

Mercier, who was recruited to SDSU by VanDamme, learned VanDamme was leaving SDSU during the 2021 UPGA Tournament at Escanaba Country Club.

“It was a pretty good shock to the system,” Mercier said. “(But) I felt good for him, it’s a great opportunity for him.”

VanDamme became Kent State’s head coach just before last year’s IRC and was replaced on an interim basis by Manistique native Mike Nagy. Parker Eden has since replaced Nagy at SDSU. Eden had been a coach at Colorado State.

Eden says VanDamme “jumped and helped” to organize this third tournament. “He was very helpful. This tournament is very important to him. It could have been a lot more stressful” without his help, Eden added.

Eden, whose first day at SDSU was Aug. 22, said a few teams that were past event participants pulled out this year to compete in a global amateur event.

“It should be a big event. It will be quite competitive for the teams, and there are some very good individuals. said Eden. “It’s a really great opportunity for our guys to play. I’ve heard a lot of good things from the golf course.

Sage Run, which opened in 2018, was recently ranked 20th among golf courses in the state. Its proximity “older sister,” Sweetgrass Golf Club, is ranked 10th. Sweetgrass was named National Golf Course of the Year in January.

Michigan State’s James Piot, who won the US Amateur in 2021 and now plays on the LIV Tour, was the first IRC medalist with a 207. Last year he shared the honors with his MSU teammate Troy Taylor II with 209.

“If we play as we can, we will have our noses in it” said Eden, giving a vote of confidence to the players he just met. “It will be a good challenge. I can’t wait to get there.

“The first two weeks I’ll see where we are, research the guys and see what we can do, and see what our weaknesses are.”

Sage Run, which has been widely played this season, has seen impressive growth. Island Resort general manager Tony Mancilla tries to play it three or four times a week and expects the many newcomers to quickly become familiar with the course during their practice rounds.

He said the main rough is thick and the uphill par-4 eighth hole is passable for the “bombs away” college golfers, while the No. 9 “is an excellent par 5 with a two tier green, no 3 is a birdie hole.”

Mancilla said the key to scoring at Sage Run is hitting the straight off the tee. A key on the par-5 12th plays down the left side.

“(No.) 15 plays into the wind (off an elevated tee),” Mancilla spoke of the hilly course which has a unique character and feel. “No. 4 is a sneaky hole.

“There are a lot of nuances in the course. The greens are firm and play fast. There are a lot of challenging holes there.

Dennis Grall is the executive secretary of the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame and former sports editor for Escanaba’s Daily Press.

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