EGC draws plenty of high praise

Wes Holtsclaw and
Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com;
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   A common theme at the East Tennessee Amateur Golf Tournament this weekend has been the condition and play of the Elizabethton Golf Course.
   The major event of the course's season has gotten rave reviews from almost everyone involved, whether it be the greens and fairways or even the lunch provided to its participants.
   "The course is in great shape," said three-time tournament winner Bill Argabrite. "The fairways are great, particularly when you count the rain, and the staff has worked hard. I really haven't had a bad line in two days, the greens are nice and that generally helps players who are doing well."
   Going into Sunday's final round, several championship leaders believe the course has played to their advantage.
   Said Joe Humston: "I like the challange of the greens, you can roll the ball good here and read breaks."
   "The greens are super with as much rain as we had, the slope is great," said Hampton's Chris Guy, who is tied with Humston for second. "It's the best I've seen in a long time."
   Rain and hot weather can sometimes be a bad thing for golf courses; however, it has played to Elizabethton's advantage this weekend.
   "The course is magnificent and dried out," said Senior Championship leader Tom Foster. "Coming in, we were afraid the rain would do us in."
   DOWNES MAKES STRIDES IN SECOND TOURNEY
   * Robin Downes, the only female involved in the East Tennessee Amateur Tournament in 2002, returned this year for participation in the Championship Flight.
   The rising junior within the ETSU women's golf program, transferred from Birmingham-Southern, where she was the number one golfer.
   She shot a 90 and an 86 last year, but this year she was out to improve. She did just that with an 84 in the first round of play.
   "It's my only guy tournament, but it's so fun," Downes said Friday.
  "More ladies are getting into it since Annika (Sorenstam) did it."
   "I've improved here this year," she said. "I had mental issues last year and I was worried. This year, everybody is accepting and see me as a girl who can play with men, which not many can."
   Downes shot an 88 on Saturday, but she believes the tournament will help her down the road.
   "I had a great time," she said. "It's always a learning experience and I came here to compete, not to win. I wish I had of played a better round today."
   MEDIA PLAY
   * Media members aren't always known as the best athletes, but that didn't keep three local esteemed reporters from participating in this year's East Tennessee Amateur.
   All performed reasonably well with Kingsport Times-News Sports editor Ron Bliss making it to the final day of the Senior Championship with a two-day score of 173, finishing 19th.
   Two members participated in the Flight Play division.
   Johnson City Press sportswriter Joe Avento won his first round matchup in the third flight over Billy Puckett on Friday and topped Mario Rogovac on Saturday to advance to his flight final.
   WCYB sports television anchor Paul Johnson also gave a good account of himself on Friday winning in the seventh flight over Alan Skeans. On Saturday, Johnson lost to David Abston and will compete in the consolation bracket today.
   FORMER ETSU PLAYER FARES WELL IN TOURNEY
   * Andy Pennington has followed through with the theme of improvement during the 2003 tournament.
   Finishing 19th in last year's event, the former ETSU and Carson-Newman basketballer and current boys basketball coach at Sweetwater High School is sitting in a tie for 11th.
   "State wasn't the place I should've been," said the Madisonville resident. "It's not good when the guy who recruits you leaves."
   Pennington battled his way up the ranks at ETSU before transferring to Carson-Newman his senior year. He has had some success as a coach with the Sweetwater unit.
   "You wouldn't believe what basketball can do to you," he said. "Golf is somewhere I can go to relax, and I like the individual aspect of the game."