By Pete Chiodo
Conneaut Lake’s Doris Hargenrater has played in each edition of the Oakland Beach Women’s Invitational — except for one. She had a pretty good excuse, though.
“I wrecked the car and was in the hospital,” said Hargenrater.
At the time — she doesn’t remember the exact year — she was working as a telephone operator in Altoona. She was coming back to her hometown for the tournament, but didn’t quite make it all the way.
“I was on my way to Conneaut Lake when I wrecked my car in front of Hank’s,” said Hargenrater. “I broke a shoulder. We were lucky we didn’t get any more hurt then we did.”
The following year, Hargenrater was back on the course. And she’ll be back again in 2013 as the OBWI celebrates its 51st year of existence this Monday and Tuesday at Oakland Beach Golf Club in Conneaut Lake.
“I don’t play as well as I used to, but I’m still hitting the ball,” Hargenrater said.
This year’s tournament has drawn 110 ladies, which is a considerably smaller field than the full compliment of 144 that competed in the 50th anniversary tournament last year.
“I’m not really sure what I attribute the lower number to, except there’s just a lot going on with people,” said Vicki White, a former tournament chair and a member of the Oakland Beach Tuesday Morning Ladies League, which hosts the invitational.
“I have four or five girls that usually come up from Pittsburgh and they’re just all busy,” said White. “Too many tournaments going on.”
This year’s Oakland Beach invite was actually pushed back a week from the third Monday and Tuesday of June to the fourth Monday and Tuesday of the month.
That date change is likely what has affected turnout.
White says she’s okay with a smaller group of golfers.
“It can be an awfully long day,” she said. “I’ve talked to some ladies in the past and asked them why they never come back. And that say that it’s because of the six-hour round. It’s just too long.
“Those of us that are signed up are pretty happy about the field. I think it will be nice, but it won’t take forever.”
And it doesn’t hurt that a shorter field also increases the chances of winning the tournament.
“For a long time I’ve been wanting that trophy,” said White. “Gotta have your dreams, right?”
The championship race is further opened up with the absence of defending champion Gwen Paden of Duncansville. Helped out by 78s on both days of the tournament (and a hole-in-one on No. 6 in the first round), Paden became the 27th champion of the tournament with a final round of 156. Paden bested five-time champion Lori Mort, 2011 champion Carolyn Thompson and 2010 champion Patty Nelis, who all tied for second with final totals of 158.
Yet, even without Paden, it’s not going to be easy to claim this year’s championship.
There’s still some tough golfers in the field, like Nelis, of Ruffs Dale (an 8.0 handicap), and New Castle’s Mort (7.5) who will both be looking for another OBWI title.
Franklin Becky Barnes (5.6), Meadville’s Alyssa Gerhart (6.3) and Seven Fields’ Gemma Winnen-Peters (6.7) are three other golfers with handicaps under 10 that could compete for this year’s championship.
“I don’t play as well as some of those girls, but I really like playing in that championship flight.” said White, a 13 handicap.
“And I’m not even playing to a 14 right now, so I’m a little concerned.”