Mink Meadows Golf Course in Vineyard Haven, celebrating its 80th birthday this year, was the site of some dramatic and highly entertaining golf last weekend. Over four days of tournament play, the 2016 champions in four different competitive categories were determined.
By Sunday afternoon, when the sand traps had been raked smooth and all divots replaced, the leaderboard looked like this. Ladies Club Championship winner: Joyce Cooper of Vineyard Haven, two-round total of 184. Men’s Club Championship winner: Ben Katz of New Canaan, Conn., two-round total of 150. Mens Senior Championship winner (ages 60-69): Bob Jaffe of Vineyard Haven, two-round total of 162. Super Senior Men’s winner (70 and over): Gil Williams of Lincoln and Oak Bluffs, two-round total of 168.
But there’s more to the picture. “There’s a natural story line here,” club pro Ken Bielski said as we followed the Sunday action in a golf cart. “The final round of the British Open is being played today. It’s one of the four major tournaments for the men, and there’s a lot of pressure. For the Mink Meadows golfers — men and women — this is their major.”
At that point we were keeping pace with a foursome that included the remaining contestants for the men’s championship. Ken explained that other tourney entrants had either dropped out after Saturday’s opening round or were designated to a lower flight.
“The flight groups will be pretty relaxed out there today,” Ken said. “They aren’t in the running for the championship, so you’ll hear more joking around. The guys we’re following won’t be trash-talking today … they’re grinding it out for the win.”
To emphasize the point, Ken checked his watch while our foursome putted out on the fourth hole. “The average time for a group to play an entire hole is 14 minutes,” he told me. We waited and watched. When the group left the green, Ken nodded. “Yup. That was 14 minutes just to putt. They’re focusing.”
Our foursome included tournament veterans Doug Dowling, Lenny Vanderhoop, Jada Kral, and newcomer Ben Katz. Each had shot in the mid-70s on Saturday, so there was potential for some drama here on the final day. Our first indication that the veterans were in trouble was on the sixth hole, when Jada Kral, passing our parked cart, mumbled, “No one’s gonna catch the kid today.”
“The kid” could only be Ben Katz, the 22-year-old who has summered on Martha’s Vineyard since early childhood and who owns the lowest handicap at the club. This was confirmed on the par-5 eighth, after Ken deftly positioned our cart to provide us with an elevated view of the four tee shots and the ensuing approach shots to the green. After Mr. Katz outdrove the group, then promptly put his second shot within six feet of the pin, Mr. Kral’s message to us was equally grim and prophetic: “Puttin’ for eagle … again.”
And so it went in the men’s championship. When the group teed off on the 18th, the matter was settled. Mr. Katz’s second-round 76 gave him a 150 total, and his first club title. Lenny Vanderhoop finished three shots back at 153.
By this time, the front porch was crowded with golfers who, done for the day, were enjoying the classic “19th hole” atmosphere and reviewing their weekend performances. Rusty Hitchings, eight-time men’s championship winner and defending senior champ, bemoaned the poor putting that derailed him on Sunday: “Those greens were sticky and slow. The humidity always does that to the grass. But I failed to remember that fact. And that’s the main problem with being a senior.”
The new senior champ, Bob Jaffe of Vineyard Haven, expressed both pride and some surprise at his victory. The 2005 men’s champion, Bob battled the heat on Sunday and did not pull away until he sank a clutch 40-foot putt on the 15th hole. When asked how he would celebrate, Mr. Jaffe smiled. “With a big martini,” he replied.
This was also an opportunity to check the results of the Ladies Championship, which Joyce Cooper won by 12 strokes over runner-up Collette Vargas of Edgartown. In later interviews, both women cited the “competitive but friendly” tone of the competition. This was Joyce’s first club title. “I had a slight cushion — maybe a two-stroke lead — after Thursday’s first round,” she said. “On Saturday I just relaxed and played my game.”
Meanwhile, as the British Open reached its nail-biting conclusion, “the kid” was grinning, perhaps for the first time all day. Describing the general mood among the four rivals, he said, “It was pretty intense out there. We were all concentrating.” He summed up his Sunday round in succinct fashion: ”I started strong, was weak in the middle, and finished strong.”
As Ben Katz received his trophy from head pro Chet Nowak, a voice from the porch called out in more visionary terms: “Get used to this picture, folks. We’ll be seeing it for a long time.” Mr. Katz certainly hopes so.