CALLICOON When Fred Stabbert Jr., Paul Zintel, the Etess brothers and a few others first organized the Sullivan County Democrat Two-Man Best, they wanted to create a much-needed competitive opportunity for area golfers as well as a golf “event.” At that time, no courses in this region were part of the Metropolitan Golf Association or the Westchester Golf Association and the only competition available to area players was the New York State Amateur, New York State Open and a few charity outings.
So the first tournament was held in August 1982 at Grossinger’s and a modest field of some 88 players participated. The beauty of the flighted, match-play format was that players of all levels could engage in fair competition. The response was overwhelming and the word quickly spread that “you had to play in the Democrat.”
Mark and Mitchell Etess dominated the first two championships and another member of the Grossinger family, Jimmy Grossinger teamed with Ken Cohen to win the third Democrat. It would be the first of eight Democrat championships for Cohen spanning 20 years. In 1989, with Grossinger’s situation unsettled, the Democrat moved to the relatively new Villa Roma Resort in Callicoon, where it was embraced by owner Marty Passante and Director of Golf Matt Kleiner and elevated to another level, including the Friday night barbecue and “discussion.”
Over its 30-year history, the Democrat has attracted the best players from Sullivan County and beyond. From the Etess brothers to Cohen, Kort Wheeler, Rad Yaun, David Solomon, Nick Yaun, Sean Semenetz, Josh Goldstein, Eric Williams, Gerry Garber and Walt Markowski players who have won State and regional championships, participated in U.S. Amateurs and NCAA Championships and have competed on international teams. That’s the mark of a great tournament.
But what really makes the Democrat the premiere “golf event” in the region is the inclusion of all golfers, not just low-handicappers. Whether it’s the championship flight or the seventh flight, teams are battling every shot and every hole. It’s not uncommon to hear a 15-handicapper make four birdies in a round or a championship-flight team go seven or eight-under to win a match. The Democrat has a way of bringing out the very best golf.
It should be noted that only two people have played in every Democrat Chris DuBois and Marvin Newberg.
Now in its 31st year, the Democrat boasts a field of approximately 116 players 58 teams. The three-day tournament begins with a qualifying round on Friday afternoon all the teams play 18 holes, best-ball stroke play to determine the flighting. If there is a tie for the 16th and final position in the championship flight, a playoff is held. Some of the most exciting moments in Democrat history have come during the Championship Flight playoff. In the early years at Grossinger’s, the qualifying score for the Championship flight reached as high as 78 and 79. At the Villa Roma it has dipped as low as 72.
After the field is flighted, the format switches to match-play to determine the champions in each flight. All flights have eight teams except for the Championship flight which has 16. The first-round losers of the Championship flight form the first flight. The match-play competition begins on Saturday morning.
The semifinals in all flights are played on Sunday morning and the final matches as well as a consolation round to determine third-place finishers follow on Sunday afternoon.
The tournament concludes with a dinner and awards ceremony.
The Pro’s Picks
By Matt Kleiner
Director of Golf, Villa Roma
Yes, it is that time of the year for the Sullivan County Democrat golf tournament. One-hundred twelve players tee off today in a team event that players look forward to months in advance. Once again, the field was full, well before the deadline.
As in the past, many teams are made up of fathers and sons, best friends, cousins and sometimes even a veteran player looking to play with a young rookie with very good potential.
Eight-time champion Ken Cohen has teamed up with Sullivan West High School’s number one player, Drew Billard. The 17-year-old, who has only been playing golf for four years, has shown steady improvement. When asked why he chose Billard, Cohen said, “I like Drew and thought playing with him would be good for both of us.”
Billard did play last year, with fellow co-worker at the Villa Roma, Will O’Brien. The boys were in a lower flight than Billard will play this year. The Cohen-Billard team will be vying for the championship.
Defending champions Sean Semenetz and Joe Winski will try to three-peat after beating two-time champs, Billy Phillips and Gregg Semenetz Sr., in the finals last year. Both have been playing practice rounds with Sean fresh off a winning score of two-under-par 69, at the Sullivan West Alumni tournament.
Other teams expected to compete are the well-known professional qualifiers of Phillips and Semenetz Sr., looking for their third team title. Also back after a one year absence are three-time runner-ups Ben and Maxx Kleiner.
The Villa Roma golf course is playing hard and fast with all the dry weather we’ve had in the area. Local knowledge will be at a premium this year.
Once again, Marvin Newberg and Chris DuBois will be playing. Neither has missed a Democrat since the tournament began in 1982.
Good luck to all!
ODDS ON WINNING
2-1 Sean Semenetz/Joe Winski Best team with great experience. To beat them, a team will have to make 6 to 7 birdies, minimum. Then again, they probably would make 8.
4-1 Ken Cohen/Drew Billard Could give champs a run if they don’t have a bad round getting to the final. New team could make a lot of birdies that might be needed.
6-1 Gregg Semenetz/Bill Phillips
2-time winners want revenge against defending champs.
8-1 Ben Kleiner/Maxx Kleiner
Both must play well to win. Do make plenty of birdies.
12-1 Tyler White/Mike Kaufman, Justin Armstrong/Randy Armstrong, Rich Elliott/Bob Elliott
15-1 Mike Goldstein/Craig Gordon