Lench Defends Florida Open Title at Hammock Dunes
Gabriel Lench of Lake Mary will defend his title at the 73rd Florida Open at Hammock Dunes Club in Palm Coast from July 12-14. Lench also won his second Florida State Golf Association (FSGA) Amateur last summer—only the third player in FSGA history to win both the Am and the Open in the same year—but has just turned pro, intentionally making the Open his professional debut. Lench is one of only four amateurs to have won the Florida Open since the FSGA re-organized it in 2009.
STRONG FIELD, STRONG COURSES
To secure his second Open crown, however, Lench will have to subdue both an elite field and two championship golf courses, Rees Jones’s Creek Course and Tom Fazio’s Oceanfront Links Course.
Lench will be competing against 155 other Florida residents in this prestigious 54-hole event with a $100,000 purse and $15,000 for the champion. The field has been gleaned from FSGA exemptions for entitled amateurs and professionals and from 16 sites around the state that enticed more than 1050 players to try to qualify. Amateurs with a valid USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 6.4 and all pros in Florida who have not joined a recognized tour (a PGA class A-3 member) are encouraged to participate.
FSGA SECURES PREMIER VENUES FOR THE FLORIDA OPEN
Since the FSGA reorganized the event they have obtained premier locations such as Innisbrook (2018, 2010), Black Diamond Ranch (2017, 2011), Interlachen (2016), Timuquana (2015), Bonita Bay (2014), Quail Valley (2013, 2009), and Ritz Carlton Members Club (2012). Notable champions who went on to pro tour careers have included Bart Bryant, Bruce Fleisher, Dudley Hart, John Huston, Gary Koch, Bob Murphy, and Charlie Owens. Although tour players are not eligible, the field will include a number of former tour players and certainly will include some future tour stars as well.
Lench knows the top players from the 2018 Open will be shooting for him once again, in this the 73rd version of the competition. Specifically, he needs to be wary of those who finished in the top five last year and within five strokes of his six-under par 208 score: (a) Joe Alfieri II (210), Matt Cote and Mickey DeMorat (211), and (a) Mike Finster, (a) Devon Hopkins, Joe Stepnes, (a) Alex Vogelsong, and Will Wiseman (213). Lench will also have to contend with former Open champs like J.C. Deacon (2017), two-time winner Caleb Johnson (2014, 2016), (a) John Jonas (2015), and Rod Perry (2011).
Perry, a PGA pro and winner of the 2013 PGA Professional Championship for club pros, is the head pro at Crane Lakes in nearby Port Orange and has played in 15 Florida Opens. Perry, who finished T-6 in this year’s Professional Championship, is delighted that Hammock Dunes Club is the host of the tournament. He said, “This is a great opportunity for the foremost players in the state to play one of the foremost facilities in the state. Both the Creek and the Links, which should play to around 7,000 yards with the greens Stimping between 11-12, will give us all the challenge we’ll need on Friday and Saturday, and then those 60 and low ties who make the cut will certainly feel the pressure on Sunday on the Creek, no question. Also, no question, the best player in the field will win this year’s Florida Open. The Creek and the Links will see to that.”
HAMMOCK DUNES IS BUFFED UP AND READY TO HOST
The Hammock Dunes Club is a 660-member private venue located about 30 miles north of Daytona Beach and 30 miles south of St. Augustine on Central Florida’s Atlantic coast. Brad Myers, who came to Hammock Dunes from Congressional in the DC area, has been the Director of Golf for five years and is justifiably proud that both courses are Audubon Certified. The community has recently undergone an extensive $7.2M renovation and expansion of its Oceanfront Links Clubhouse, re-opening on May 3. In addition to the two world-class courses, Hammock Dunes also sports three croquet lawns, five Har-Tru tennis courts and four pickleball courts and two bocce courts, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and a 25-meter outdoor, heated pool and spa.
The Creek Course was redesigned by Rees Jones in 2003 and then updated, especially around the green complexes and in all bunkers, in 2017. Located about five miles from the Hammock Dunes campus, the par-72 course will never have homes and has been designed to showcase its environment and the wildlife as it meanders through 690 acres of native oaks, palms, pines, and marsh, offering impressive tidal wetland views. Each player will have to avoid the ubiquitous water, multiple sand traps in fairways and around greens, and short siding himself on the elevated and undulating greens. The Creek Course has been ranked #2 on the list of the “50 Toughest Golf Courses” by the Jacksonville Business Journal. It has been a perennial host of U.S. Open qualifying events.
Tom Fazio created the Oceanfront Links Course in 1989 on a remarkable setting, and it was completely renovated in 2016. The Links has three holes on the Atlantic Ocean, 12 holes with water in play, an abundance of sand traps, and lovely vistas. It is a layout with wide fairways, but it does require finesse and shot control, and it is not as overpowering as the Creek. Also a par 72, the course wends its way through the Hammock Dunes community, known for its beautiful custom homes and landscaping. It has been rated the #9 golf course in Florida and #15 on the “Toughest” list. Both the Creek and the Links are ranked in the Top 100 of “Top Residential Golf Courses” by Golfweek magazine, one of only four private clubs with two courses ranked.
GET FUNKY WITH FRED
The PGA Tour’s Fred Funk is an honorary member, plays the courses frequently, and held the record at the Creek for 10 years with his 2-under par 70. He made a video about what the Florida Open contestants can expect to discover at Hammock Dunes. Above all, he told them that, once they tee it up on the Creek and the Links, he is sure they will agree with him, “About how special this little piece of paradise is and how much you will enjoy the property. For a golfer, it doesn’t get any better than this, but you’re going to need your “A” game.”
For more information about the FSGA and the Florida Open, access www.fsga.org.
For more information about Hammock Dunes, access www.hammockdunesclub.com.
To view Fred Funk’s video, access www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyhxdVhH3rw&feature=youtu.be.