From 1 to 100: The State Open Returns to Blue Mound

Blue Mound Golf & Country Club in Wauwatosa is no stranger to hosting great golf tournaments, having held the 1916 Western Open, 1933 PGA Championship, 1955 Miller High Life Open, co-hosted the 2011 US Amateur with Erin Hills and plenty of others in between.

In 1919, the club hosted the state’s first and largest major golf tournament: The State Open. It was won by Arthur Clarkson, who defended his title the next year at Milwaukee Country Club.

All in all, Blue Mound has held the State Open five times (1919, 1921, 1928, 1942, 1952), and this year makes it a cool half-dozen in the form of the event’s 100th edition.

A 72-hole stroke play event conducted by the Wisconsin Section of the PGA, this year’s State Open sponsored by the Suter/Ward Group features a field of 156 players: 81 professionals, 67 amateurs and 2 players awaiting amateur reinstatement.

Throughout the years, the State Open has produced some of Wisconsin’s most legendary champions, including Steve Stricker (5 times), Jerry Kelly (1992), Skip Kendall (1988, 1989), Mark Wilson (2001), Eddie Terasa (3 times), Manuel de la Torre (5 times), Tommy Veech (4 times), Bobby Brue (5 times), Jordan Niebrugge (2011), and the winner of the event’s last two installments, Dan Woltman of Beaver Dam (4 total State Open wins).

Woltman, a member of the Korn Ferry Tour, is on the prowl again this year seeking his 5th title and currently tied for fourth just four strokes behind Kaylor Steger of Mount Pleasant who’s reached 8 under par.

Now in the books, days 1 and 2 otherwise produced a lot of high numbers. Players battled lightning fast greens and hellacious pin positions. Many of Blue Mound’s enormous, sometimes over 10,000 square foot green complexes have pins tucked in to far corners, cut just paces from edges. Former PGA Tour and current Champions Tour player Skip Kendall told Wisconsin.Golf’s Gary D’Amato they’re the second fastest greens he’s ever played (behind one year at The Memorial).

Tough greens lead to high cuts and great leaderboards, and this week’s tournament is no exception as a cadre of terrific players remain in the running, including:

  • 2nd place at -6: Harrison Ott, fresh off a round of 16 appearance in last week’s US Amateur at Bandon Dunes where he knocked off the tournament’s medalist, Wilson Furr
  • 3rd place at -5: Tommy Longbella, winner of the State Amateur at Milwaukee CC by TEN STROKES three weeks ago
  • T-11 at +2: 5-time PGA Champion Mark Wilson
  • T-11 at +2: Former PGA & current Champion Tour player Skip Kendall

A lot has changed since the State Open’s original event at Blue Mound in 1919, both in society and at their club. The course, though, looks tremendously similar now to its legendary course architect Seth Raynor’s design, thanks to a caring and benevolent staff and membership that has consistently done the right thing.

It’s not just golf that Blue Mound’s membership has shown to be consistently gracious toward, but also the great kids who grow up in and around their community. One player in the field who has been a benefactor of that is fellow North Hills member Mike Bielawski.

Bielawski, a former Marquette player and winner of the 2017 & 2018 WSGA State Match Play and 2018 WSGA State 4-Ball Championship, knows this year’s site well:

“This year’s open at Blue Mound is very special to me personally. I first learned what golf was when I was 12 years old when my Dad took me to Doyne, a MKE County Par 3 course. I loved it immediately and my parents thought it would be good to get me a job as a caddy, which turned out to be a great decision! Blue Mound is where I ended up going to caddy and it’s been an incredible ride in the golf world ever since. From winning a few good junior events, to college golf at Marquette, to mini tour life (thanks to a group of Blue Mound members sponsoring me), to club pro, and finally to college golf coach; I have seen a lot of the golf world. Now a father of two (Noah 2.5 and Lily 5 months) and husband, and working at the MACC Fund, I have so much to be thankful for.

Realistically, I owe much of this to my experience at Blue Mound and a few key people there that helped shaped my golf path. Head Professional Barry Linhart and (at the time) Assistant Pro Andy Fish really went out of their way to help me along both on and off the course, in addition to a generous group of members who helped me ‘chase the dream’ after college.

The reason I note all this is over the next few days, whether my golf is good or bad, two rounds or four, I am going to have a lifetime of really special memories to reflect upon between trying to hit some decent golf shots. It’s hard to find a place more special than Blue Mound to learn about golf and life. Aside from these great memories, the course changes over the past few years have been incredible—it’s truly pristine. I feel very fortunate to be able to compete in this year’s Open and can’t say thanks enough to the membership, staff, PGA staff, volunteers, and everyone who will make the 100th State Open a first class event.”

– Mike Bielawski

Over the years, Bielo has become one of my favorite people in the golf world, and it’s classy statements like these that exemplify his character and leadership at an organization as impactful as the MACC Fund.

While a lot has changed since Blue Mound held the state’s first Open, surely no changes have been as drastic as the environment created for this year’s tournament: A modern golf event held during the time of COVID-19.

Spectators this year are limited to immediate family members who must arrive and depart with the players, and members of the media who are required to socially distance while on-site.

Scoring is being updated online, and there are no physical leaderboards or crowds to cheer on their favorites. Still, 61 players remain in the battle for 36 more holes, motivated to become the state’s 100th Open Champion.

14 players have repeated at the State Open over the past 100 years, but will Woltman be the tournament’s first ever three-peat winner? Will University of Minnesota’s Longbella back up his State Am title? Will Harrison Ott stay hot after his impressive performance at Bandon last week? Will one of the streaky guys a ways back, like Charlie Delsman at +6, get hot and fire off something in the low-to-mid-sixties to get in the hunt?

Even without fans, this year’s State Open is filled with storylines, and tomorrow’s 36-hole marathon should be writhe with intrigue. They certainly couldn’t find a better host club than Blue Mound for it all to happen.

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