BUTTE – The largest golf tournament in the state of Montana got underway Tuesday morning in Butte and Anaconda, with 336 golfers aiming for the Montana Senior Amateur title.
While the scores on the first day will make for some tightly contested battles over the final two rounds, for many of the golfers competing, it's not about winning, but enjoying the weekend and spending time with quality people.
Garry Hicks of Helena, playing in his second state senior tournament, is one such golfer.
"This is my second year," Hicks, who played Tuesday morning at Old Works, said. "What I really enjoy is meeting new friends and the camaraderie. Everybody is here to have fun. I know there's some guys who want to take it a little serious, but I'm here, I'm alive.
"Overall, it's just playing with great friends and having fun."
In addition to meeting new people and friends, the golfers get to enjoy some of the best golf courses and towns that Montana has to offer.
"Beautiful," Hicks said of Old Works. "This is one of the nicest golf courses in the state. The town is nice, everybody in Anaconda has been great, and it's a good boost for the economy."
Hicks was one of many golfers Tuesday to compliment the speed of the greens at Old Works, which made for tough scoring for the Section 2 golfers.
Dan Brown of Billings, like Hicks, enjoys the chances to play with many of his friends at the event, as well as the opportunity to play at three challenges courses.
"There's a lot of good guys in this tournament," said Brown, who played in Section 1 at Fairmont Hot Springs. "The people in it, they're just all good guys, friendly, and just a lot of fun, plus it's nice to play good golf courses around this area. I'm really looking forward to Old Works."
For Brown, and many of the other golfers, part of the challenge this week is playing courses they've never seen before, or haven't played in years, like Brown at Fairmont.
"Fairmont was good, it was beautiful in the morning," he said. "When the wind came up I kind of lost my concentration, but it's nice out there. I haven't played it since it opened, so it was like a new course to me."
Mike Ritz of Havre is one golfer who was drawn to the tournament after hearing how much fun other golfers had in previous years, and was also appreciative of the challenge that Butte Country Club offered to him and the other Section 3 golfers Tuesday morning.
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"I thought it was great," Ritz said. "They've put together a great tournament and so far it's been nothing but good. The good people I was with and the greens were fast, it was just a great day of golf."
As for the on-course action Tuesday, the Section 1 golfers took to Fairmont Hot Springs, where windy conditions in the afternoon made for tough scoring conditions.
No player broke par in Section 1 (Handicaps 0-13), but Calvin Stacey of Billings found himself alone atop the leaderboard, carding a 1-over 73 to take a one shot lead.
Fred Schweitzer of Bozeman and Bill Simmons of Big Fork both sit one shot back after firing 74s.
Butte's Lee Montoya is the top local golfer, sitting two shots back after carding a 75. Montoya is tied with three other golfers for fourth place.
Defending champion Joe Hill sits three shots back after carding a 76.
The Section 1 golfers will take on Old Works Golf Club in Wednesday's round.
In Section 2 (Handicaps 13-20) play at Old Works, Randy Michael of Laurel set the early pace by firing a strong round of 80, 8-over par to lead after Round 1.
Michael holds a two-shot lead over Gary Myers of Whitefish and Dennis Sacry of Whitehall, who each carded an 82.
Butte's Dick O'Leary and Pete Ridgeway of Polson each carded 83's to sit three shots back in a tie for fourth.
The Section 2 golfers will play their second round at Butte Country Club.
All sections are scheduled to begin play at 8 a.m. Wednesday.