Portie to defend title at Rocky Mountain Open

Ben Portie, the 2010 Rocky Mountain Open champion, will continue a solid summer by playing today in the 73rd annual pro-am at Tiara Rado.

The oldest open golf tournament in Colorado features one of the hottest golfers in the state.

The Enstrom Rocky Mountain Open, in its 73rd year, begins today with the pro-am at Tiara Rado Golf Course.

Friday through Sunday at Tiara Rado and Bookcliff Country Club, Ben Portie, the 2010 RMO champion, will attempt to continue his torrid summer.

Portie finished second in the Wyoming Open in July, won the South Dakota Open, then wrapped up the month with the Colorado Open title at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club.

The former University of Colorado golfer shot 16-under-par 197 last August to win the RMO and pocket $8,500 in prize money.

It’s the second year for the new format of the RMO, no longer playing on the historic 9-hole Lincoln Park Golf Course.

“It’s been tremendous,” said Mike Knode, the tournament director. “It was a hard decision to walk away from that much tradition. In 73 years, it went from just at Lincoln Park, then at Lincoln Park and Tiara Rado. Last year when we were able to go to Tiara Rado and Bookcliff, we were able to grow the field.

“Even though we recognize the tradition, we had so much more interest from so many more players who wanted to play two 18-hole courses.”

The professionals and open amateurs will play the final round at Bookcliff, the first flight finishes at Tiara Rado.

The field of 106 in the open pro flight will be cut to the low one-third after Saturday’s second round. Another 103 golfers have entered the amateur division, with handicaps of 3 and under in the championship flight and those at 3.1 and above in the first flight.

A total of 54 golfers are in one of the two senior divisions, one for pros and another for amateurs. The senior amateur tournament is 36 holes, as is the 34-team 4-ball competition.

The RMO raises money for the Western Colorado Golf Association’s scholarship program. Nearly two dozen student-athletes are receiving four-year scholarships through the foundation.

It also benefits the new “Golf in Schools” program through the Colorado section of the PGA, where elementary students are introduced to the game during physical education classes.

Former RMO champions Monte Montgomery and Scott Petersen have entered.

Montgomery is playing alongside his son, Taylor, the first two rounds as partners in the 4-ball competition. Taylor finished fourth in the amateur division last year, with Monte watching from the gallery.

Several teaching professionals have entered, along with players at Colorado Mesa University. A handful of high school players are taking advantage of a rule that allows them to play in an open tournament despite the prep season being under way.

Fruita’s Joey Saad and Will Berg, who shot 73 and 75, respectively, in Wednesday’s prep tournament at Black Canyon in Montrose, are in the field.

“It’s real good for them to compete against really good players,” Fruita coach Dave Fox said. “I hope they play with someone whose behavior and mental toughness shows on the course so they understand you can’t be upset and mad, and they can watch good players be good-tempered.”

In years past, the RMO intimidated higher handicap players, but Knode hopes that’s changing, starting this year.

“We’ve set the course up to where higher handicappers can come play,” he said. “We have a forward set of tees, so if your handicap is 10 or higher, we want you to come play and be in competition and play the golf course where it’s set up for competition. We don’t get that every day.

“This is the first year we’ve done that, and we have a set of tees we’ve moved forward a little bit. We have a 23 handicapper playing and we want him to have a good time.”


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