Higgins still fun without sun

Eagle Kyle Spoon chips onto the green at the 42nd Tim Higgins Memorial Golf Tournament.  - Photo by Aaron Managhan
Eagle Kyle Spoon chips onto the green at the 42nd Tim Higgins Memorial Golf Tournament.
— image credit: Photo by Aaron Managhan

While the sunshine decided not to flood the Kitsap Golf & Country Club on Thursday, instead replaced by rain spells and high winds, nothing could dampen the area’s top high school invitational golf tournament.

“Higgins is the jewel,” Olympic boys golf coach Jim Rosendal said. “It’s the event, not so much as prestigious, but everyone gets together.”

The 42nd Annual Tim Higgins Memorial Golf Tournament went off without a hitch despite less-than-ideal weather.

The tournament, in memory of the late Tim Higgins, offered all the things that continue to make it one of the top tourneys around.

Once again, the tournament brought together the best of the area’s prep golfers, with teams from North Kitsap, Central Kitsap, South Kitsap, Olympic, Klahowya, Bremerton, North Mason, Chimacum, Sequim, Port Townsend, Peninsula and Port Angeles. Last year’s team champions, Bainbridge, did not return.

South Kitsap shot 299 as a team, topping the next closest team by 36 strokes. South’s Joel Shenfeld had the top score of 72 on the par-71 course. No SK golfer topped 78.

But above and beyond the action on the links, the tournament again brought everyone on the Olympic Peninsula together for another year of friends, food and remembrance.

“The family that puts this on, and the course, are being so gracious to do this,” CK coach Paul Stensen said. “You just can’t give enough credit. And the course is in great shape, considering the weather.”

“And the Higgins family is so nice and generous to do this every year,” Klahowya coach Geoff Backlund added. “It’s a fun time to get together and see all the coaches. Catch up. And it’s a good chance to see some great golf.”

Tim would have been 59 this July 20. His parents, Joe and Katie, and Tim’s best friend, Mike Ogg, were again joined by a slew of volunteers from the community to make the event happen. Once golfing completes, everyone comes together for a large barbecue, with jokes and smiles abound.

“They show up every year,” Rosendale said. “That’s what makes the tourney work. It’s a peninsula event. If you’re a team on the Olympic Peninsula and you want that end-of-the-year kind of thing, this is it.”

And while the coaches undoubtedly enjoyed the event, so did the kids.

“We do challenges the day before every match,” Backlund said. “Without a doubt, (Wednesday) was the most intense I’ve seen the kids. They love it.”

For Rosendale and many in the Kitsap golf community, the memorial took on deeper meaning as well with the recent passing of Darryl Gellert, an Oly assistant coach and teacher, earlier this month. Rosendale and Gellert were friends and colleagues for more than 30 years.

“To lose him is a sad moment in the big picture of Olympic High School and the Higgins,” Rosendale said. “But this is a memorial tournament itself. He was an icon, not just a good guy. There’s not a person I’ve met in 30-plus years I’ve known the guy that didn’t have something good to say about him. We were graced by his presence for a long time.”

Central Kitsap finished fifth overall with a team score of 342. Jon Ecklund, a former SK golfer, led the squad with an 80. Stensen said he’s been pleased with his team this year and hopes they’re ready to step up.

“We’re hoping some kids are gonna start to peak,” Stensen said. “We’ve been up and down, up and down. I’m hoping we’ll hit here a little on the up swing.”

With a combination of youth and inexperience, Stensen said he hopes his team can make some noise this postseason.

“It’s gonna be tough,” he said. “There’s a pretty good clump. I’m hoping we’ll be able to get past the first day and see what happens.”

Senior Hunter Hughes, who shot 85, joined the team this year for the first time. Along with Ecklund, the pair have paved the way for the younger crew, led by players like freshman Steve Cook, who shot a 93 at Higgins.

“(Hughes)’s got good technique and he’s a good model golf-wise,” Stensen said. “He knows the game, knows the rules. We’ve got a good freshman group that’s gonna be pretty solid. We’re looking to the future.”

CK’s Blake Stevenson shot an 84 for the Cougars.

Olympic cracked the top 10 with a ninth-place effort around a team core of 365. Scott Lutz shot an 89 to lead the way, while Javier Cabillo shot a 91.

“The season has improved from last year,” Rosendale said. “In a couple events we’ve been competitive. There’ a little milepost that says, ‘Getting better.’”

Along with players like Caleb Williams and Michael Ormiston, both of whom also competed at Higgins, Rosendale said he’s also got a lot of waiting youth. Williams shot a 93 and Ormiston a 92.

“It’s easy to say that,” he said. “But this is the first year where I’m looking at some real potential. The reality is we’re gonna be better. I’m looking forward to it.”

Rosendale said that’s not a reflection on his current players, specifying that most simply don’t golf year round.

“Every kid I have except Javier are seasonal golfers,” he said. “They start in March and end in May. But I have a feeling that’s gonna change.”

But that hasn’t lessened the impact of seniors like Williams.

“He’s a wrestler that golfs in the spring,” Rosendale said. “But he’s a jewel of a young man and he’s become quite a good player.”

The perceived improvement is two-fold for Rosendale. He said it comes not only in his golfers’ willingness to improve, but also with help from Rolling Hills Golf Club, where the team plays.

“All are viable players. They want to get better,” Rosendale said. “They’re hounding their parents. I know they’re gonna bear fruit.

“We’re getting nice support from Rolling Hills,” he continued. “We get to play their course all the time. They don’t really limit us except for local leagues. We’re working on trying to get summer leagues going. That will make a difference. It’s just conversation, but I’m looking forward to that.”

In the resurrected Olympic League, Rosendale said the competition is tough, but that’s not necessarily a problem.

“I like the new league,” he said. “The 3A/2A crossovers are nice. I like being back in the Olympic League. We’re restoring our voice again.”

But what has him most encouraged is the eagerness his youngsters have shown.

“They’re just exhilarated to get out there every day,” Rosendale said. “They badger me every day to play more golf. I love it when they badger me for those kinds of things.”

The Eagles were 11th in the tournament with 386 strokes, edging North Mason for the last spot.

Sam Cathcart shot a team-best 94 while twin brother Tim shot 99. Kyle Spoon had a 96 for the Eagles and Aaron Kasson shot 97.

Ultimately, Backlund said the tourney went the way of the Eagles’ season.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” he said. “The kids are playing alright. A couple wish they had played better.”

Spoon is the Eagles’ top threat as the postseason nears. While he’s advanced to districts in previous seasons, the Klahowya senior has yet to make state.

“Kyle is starting to come into his own too,” Backlund said. “He’s kind of gearing up for districts and subs. Hopefully Kyle can get to state, especially since he’s come so close. He’s got a tough road though.”

As a team, Spoon hasn’t been alone.

“The Cathcart twins without a doubt are among our top kids,” Backlund said.

Having more depth with the addition of young players like Kasson also helps, giving the Eagles some needed depth in a new league this season.

“We have a little more depth this year.,” Backlund said. “It’s different. The Nisqually, you’re taking four of five scores. Now, you’re taking five of six. It means we have to have more depth.”

Backlund knows the competition is more fierce.

“The league is a very competitive league,” he said. “It’s one of the strongest I’ve seen since I starting coaching six years ago.”

His golfers have certainly enjoyed the extra challenge.

“I think they like the Oly League because they know everyone,” Backlund said. “And everyone is a little more centrally located, which is nice.”

And again, while the weather for Higgins may not have been the most favorable, Backlund used some of his own examples to show what makes this event special.

“This course can jump up and bite you real quick. It’s a thinking man’s course,” he said. “But two of my guys are having really bad days, but they still have a smile on their faces.”

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