The competition is still 21/2 months away, but there's a no vacancy sign already hanging at the 20th Montana State Mid-Amateur Golf Tournament.
A full-field of 208 golfers, age 30 and above, has been achieved in near-record fashion for the Aug. 22-24 event at Yellowstone Country Club.
The 54-hole Mid-Am is usually one of the first tournaments to fill up each year (this year's entry deadline was Aug. 8) — and the attraction of playing at Yellowstone added to the pace, said Jim Opitz, executive director of the Montana State Golf Association.
Included among the entrants is reigning champion Rob Logsdon of Helena, who won a two-hole playoff against Michael Williams of Helena and Ron Garland of Butte last year at Riverside Country Club in Bozeman.
Williams and Garland will also be back this year, Opitz said.
The Mid-Am hasn't been played in Billings since 1999 when local favorite Dan Brown won on his home course at The Briarwood. Brown has signed up to play this year.
So has Dave Eames, Joe Zieske, Cal Stacey, Bob Price, Chris McConnell and Jerry Pearsall, all familiar names when it comes to Billings golf.
Missing in action, however, will be Drake Webinger, the 2001 champion on his home spread at Laurel Golf Club, and Jeff Ballard, a YCC member who owns a share of the course record at 9-under 63.
Ballard will be in Oregon playing in an Energy Cup tournament at Bandon Dunes.
Speaking of Pearsall, the 42-year-old Billings native will officially regain his amateur status in mid-July and will be playing in his first amateur event in around 20 years when he competes in the Mid-Am.
Pearsall, who is working as the foundation director for St. John's Lutheran Ministries, was an assistant pro at Lake Hills in Billings from 1986-93. He moved on to Olympia, Wash., for an administrative position with the Pacific Northwest Section PGA — including the last 10 years as executive director.
He moved back to Billings in September 2004.
Also Aug. 8-10, the 51st Montana State Senior Golf Tournament — the state's largest sanctioned event — will be held in Billings and Laurel. The 54-hole tourney is open to golfers age 55 and over — and 324 of them are expected to compete.
The men, divided in groups of 108, will play one round each at Laurel Golf Club, Lake Hills and Peter Yegen.
One of the participants will be 81-year-old George Schuyler of Billings, who has hit for the cycle — so to speak — when it comes to the seniors tournament.
Schuyler, who won the overall tournament in 1981 and 1984, has also won all of the respective age groups: freshmen (55-62), sophomores (63-69), juniors (70-77) and seniors (78-plus).
He played in his first state seniors in 1980 in Butte.
Schuyler, who will turn 82 on Aug. 25, won the seniors age group in 2003. He was second last year in Missoula to friendly rival Les Barnes, also of Billings.
Sidney's Court Kelsey, who won the tournament in 1999 when it was last played in Billings/Laurel, will not be in attendance this time around.
The 65-year-old Kelsey, who owns Associated Fencing in Sidney, said a busy work schedule has prevented him from playing much golf during the past two years.
With Kelbi Lee's four-stroke victory earlier this week, Billings/Laurel golfers have ruled over the 72nd annual Don Barnett Memorial Tournament at Missoula Country Club the past three years.
Joe Zieske of Laurel was the champion of the prestigious amateur event in 2004, while Josh Hedge of Billings prevailed in 2005.
Lee, who just completed his sophomore season at Rocky Mountain College, led wire-to-wire by shooting rounds of 68, 69 and 71 for a 5-under 208 total.
While his scores topped the leader board, Lee also made quite an impression in other areas.
"It may be going out on a limb, but we're guessing that no golfer in the 72-year history of the competition has ever won while sporting long, blond dreadlocks, a beard, a neon-orange shirt and tie-dyed blue pants with horizontal white stripes," wrote Rial Cummings of the Missoulian newspaper.
"I try to be as crazy as I can," Lee told Cummings. "I like to be different."
Laurel Golf Club will be staging a 36-hole U.S. Junior Amateur sectional qualifier on June 19 — with the winner moving on to be among the 156 golfers participating in the 59th national championship, set for July 17-22 at Rancho Santa Fe (Calif.) Golf Club.
Billings' Bob Bergeson, who coordinates the local sectional for the United States Golf Association, said the entry deadline is June 7.
The competition is open to amateur golfers who have not reached their 18th birthday on or before July 22 and have a USGA handicap index not exceeding 6.4.
Last year's sectional qualifier at Yellowstone Country Club attracted 18 golfers, with some traveling from as far away as Florida and California to compete.
The winner was 16-year-old Matthew Pierce of San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
Two of the recent champions at the local sectional — Blake Trimble of California and Steve Saunders of New Mexico — are now playing golf at the collegiate level.
Trimble is at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and Saunders is at the University of New Mexico.