An insider’s guide to the Cloquet Invitational golf tournamentThe 81st annual Cloquet Invitational takes place Friday morning through Sunday evening at the Cloquet Country Club. The private course is among the most challenging in the area.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
With a smooth right-handed swing, near-par handicap and thousands of rounds under his belt, golf enthusiast John Sheff has been a member at the Cloquet Country Club for 40 years.
The Cloquet native knows the 18-hole private course like the back of his hand. He keeps his game simple he said by hitting the fairway off the tee, attacking with irons and never trying to carry the ball too far.
“Anything that goes long is trouble,” said Sheff. “There are hazards and out of bounds on almost every hole. If you hit fairways, you can score, but things can take off on you if you get in trouble.”
Steady and solid, Sheff usually keeps himself out of trouble at the par 71 course, as his plus-1 handicap average is among the CCC’s finest. His personal-best is 65, yet Sheff has never won the Cloquet Invitational, finishing runner-up more than a dozen times.
“I’d like to win one on each side of 50, but I’m running out of time,” said the 49-year-old Sheff, laughing. “Tom Watson almost won the British when he was around 60, so I guess I have some time left.”
Sheff will again take to the tee box this weekend for the 81st annual Cloquet Invitational Friday morning through Sunday evening. It will be his 30th time participating in his favorite event of the summer.
“When I was younger, I would play in many local tournaments up here, but it was take the tee box, hit the parking lot and go home,” Sheff said. “But this event is unique. The place is always packed, people always stick around and it’s just a really special time. I would play in more golf tournaments if they were more like this one.”
Matt Carlson said the roughly 165-participant Invitational field is among the largest he has seen in his 14 years at the CCC, from the days as a bag boy to his role now of assistant general manager.
Carlson noted this week has been busy, with golfers shafting drives and irons, tightening short games and tweaking putts.
“It’s like planning for a test; everyone is trying to hone their game and get more swings in before Friday,” Carlson said. “I’ve seen a lot of faces again. The season ramps up for this. It’s always a fun weekend.”
Scratch golfer and NHL superstar Jamie Langenbrunner is again in the field, along with fellow CCC members Sheff, Steve Gault, Jim Stafford, Tom McFarlane and Jim Kallestad in the championship flight.
Dan Moline is perhaps the hottest golfer of late, while decorated Reed Kolquist, Wes Salo and Kyle Ness are strong competitors along with youngsters Alex Kolquist, Taylor Sundbom, Andrew Oakes and Tom Cox. All will play in the largest, most competitive and talented championship flight in recent memory, according to Carlson.
“This is one of the deepest fields we’ve had,” Carlson said. “There is a good mix of the young and the old, and all of these guys have the game to be successful out here. I think it’s very wide open.”
Defending champion Cory Schultz of Owatonna, Minn., also returns. Schultz has been making the trip north with a handful of others in recent years, something Sheff thinks makes the tournament neat.
“A lot of events you just see local guys,” Sheff said. “Having some of the Bunker Hills guys up here is pretty cool. They stick around and enjoy the weekend. They don’t just hit the parking lot afterward.”
Sheff highlighted the other attractions of the tournament, including prizes, dinner, a comedy night and driving contest.
“I like to fish, too,” Sheff said, “but this event is really all I still put on the calendar. It’s fun.”
Always just strokes away from victory, Sheff said he feels good about his game of late. He noted other members have been scoring low as well, with the course being so receptive.
“There have been a lot of smiles in the clubhouse on league nights,” Sheff said. “Some guys are posting some of their lowest scores ever right now. I’m sure it will firm up a bit this weekend, though.”
“The course looks great and the staff here has done a great job getting it ready,” Carlson said of the roughly 6,700-yard course. “We had a lot of rain. I think it will firm up, but good shots should hold.”
The private course is among the most challenging in the area. Carlson explained that members only are allowed to bring guests.
Hole 2 is the most difficult on the course, as the 430-yard par 4 is straight, but long. Following in terms of difficulty is the third hole, a par 3 at a distant 230 yards.
“You’re hoping for pars on those two,” Carlson said.
The dogleg right ninth is also long, while the 16th poses problems even for the longest of swingers. Yet, perhaps the sneakiest hole of the design is the 18th, with the par 3 surrounded by bunkers atop a slight incline. Carlson said a long iron is always the club of choice for many.
“It’s never easy to hit a long iron on that final hole,” Carlson said, “especially with everyone surrounding and watching you on Sunday.”
“Lately the conditions have been perfect and scores have been very low. I think you’ll see some good scores this weekend,” Sheff said. “But there is disaster around every corner. That’s the beauty of it.”