The SWNY-NWPA Amateur (standing for Southwest New York-Northwest Pennsylvania) is an institution in the Olean area. The tournament has been contested for decades, and features medal and match play over its four days of competition. Kyle Henzel is synonymous with the event, both for competing and organizing. We decided it was time to focus a bit more of a spotlight on the southern tier, its fine golfers and courses, and we promise it won’t be the last spotlight we shine. Read on about the tournament, Kyle Henzel, and more.
1. tell us about yourself and how the tournament came to be. It has a long history!
I started playing golf at age 8 which is kind of late in today’s world, my first taste of tournament play was the Penn-York Junior Golf League. Last year I took over the Penn-York Junior Golf league (started in 1970), the league consists of 5 venues, the entry fee is $20 total ($4 a round). The kids from ages 7 to 18 play on Mondays at Elkdale, Pennhills, Pine Acres, Wellsville, and Bartlett, each kid gets a lunch after golf courtesy of the host club. Last year we had 100 kids playing in the league, at its peak in the 80’s there would be 150 kids entered. I believe this league has been a breeding ground for the SWNY-NWPA tournament, the top 10 scoring averages get their entry paid by our committee into the tournament.
After realizing that golf was a better option than basketball/baseball, I started playing in BDGA junior tournaments starting in the early/mid 80’s and also started taking lessons from Ed Pfister both in the winter and summer months. I like to tell my kids I was the pioneer of travel sports since I was being driven and then driving myself to East Aurora sometimes 3 times a week in the summer and once a week in the winter for lessons and just playing at EACC. In my teen years I played a bunch of AJGA tournaments across the country, played in the Junior Masters twice, qualified for the US Junior Amateur the year it was played at Yale, tried to qualify for the Porter Cup several times(Never Made it), and played in the Western Junior twice which ultimately led me to a golf scholarship at Bowling Green State University where I played 4 years graduating in 1993. After college I quit playing competitive golf for a couple of years except for this tournament and then in 1996 I got the bug again and started playing competitively making the NYS Am and Medaling in this tournament (SWNY-NWPA) and losing in the finals. That winter I left for Florida and played the South Florida Tour, came back in 97 to work at Lancaster CC for a summer, went back to Florida and Georgia and played in a bunch of mini tour events to no success lol and finally called it day in 98, got my amateur stats back and went into the business world and was assistant golf coach at Bona’s for a few years from 99 to 2003. Since 1999 I have just played and helped run the SWNY-NWPA tournament with my father, since then I never really had the extra time to play in the Individual Buffalo events with being married and raising a family.
I think the best way to describe the history may be to look at the history page on the www.swnynwpa.com – the page is at https://swnynwpa.com/tournament-history/ – in a nutshell my Great Grandfather started it in 1934 as “The Olean Times Herald Tournament”, he was the publisher of the local newspaper Olean Times Herald and apparently he decided to start a tournament, over the years it passed on to my grandfather and then my father, who took it over in 1972, and is still the chairman over the tournament. When our family sold the newspaper in 1988 the tournament became the Southwestern New York Northwestern Pennsylvania Men’s Amateur although the locals still refer it as “The Times Herald”. The tournament has the same timeline lineage as The Masters, this year will be the 82nd Annual, with the only interruption in play during WWII, 1943-1945. It is my goal to get to 100 years and in recent years it has been tougher to get players to commit to a 5 day match play event and golf being down overall but we are still averaging over 100 entries a year for the past 20 years. I haven’t done any research on this but I have to believe this tournament has to be close to being one of the oldest match play events in the state and maybe the country.
2. Give us an idea of the rotation of host clubs, if there is one, and how that is decided.
In the old days (40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s) the tournament rotated frequently between Bartlett Country Club, Elkdale Country Club, Pennhills Country Club, and Pine Acres Country Club, I believe the reasoning was since the Times Herald serviced a 5 country area consisting of 3 counties in New York and 2 counties in Pennsylvania they wanted to move it to different locations to garner interest from different areas of the newspaper subscription base. Since 1977, Bartlett has hosted the tournament 36 out of the last 40 years and 2 of those years were at Pennhills and the other 2 were multiple qualifying days at one of the other clubs but Bartlett hosted the match play part. Our family has always lived in Olean and has been members of Bartlett Country Club so barring anything that would change this, Bartlett will always host the tournament going forward. The committee always kicks around having another 2 day qualifier with another club hosting 1 of the qualifiers but that would add another day to a very long week which is tough to get players to commit. Also in the past 20 years the tournament week has become somewhat of a reunion for ex-pats that come back to play in the tournament and visit relatives and Bartlett seems to be logical choice and the club has been very committed to giving us that 1st week in August every year.
3. There is quite a charitable element to this championship. Describe it for us, please.
Back in 2000 we formed a committee of local businessmen to figure out a way to spice the tournament up a little, we came up with the charitable element and also the Former Champions Shooutout to kickstart the tournament. My father has been a longtime board member of Homecare Hospice Foundation and myself and another committee member have been a longtime board members of The Rehabilitation Foundation, we decided that these 2 foundations would be the recipients of the money the committee raises every year. Through the past 18 years we have been able to give $300,000 total to both organizations. Also since the inception of the Penn-York Junior Golf League in 1970, the committee has sponsored 10 entries into the SWNY-NWPA tournament for the junior golfers with the 10 best scoring averages during the Penn-York season, we have done that every year for 48 years. And finally we established the John R. Henzel scholarship in memory of my grandfather, we give out scholarship money to a deserving senior in high school that not only excels on the golf course but in the classroom and life as well.
4. What has been the most exciting championship, in your estimation?
This is a tough question, there have been so many I have witnessed and also personally lost 2 of them lol. It would be difficult to describe but I could talk about one that may resonate with Buffalo golfers. The 2009 championship featured TJ Howe (Penn St Golfer) versus Jake Katz, they battled for 36 holes but TJ came out on top, since it’s match play you really don’t keep an official card but the reporter covering the match always does and i recall they both destroyed the course in that final, I don’t recall exact numbers but they were both several under par. Tj Howe is still grinding it out on the Canadian Tour.
The most exciting semi-final with a Buffalo flare was EJ Pfister against Tim Straub, I think it went extra holes with EJ coming out on top and he eventually won the championship in 1985. As I recall I don’t think EJ used his driver all week – lol.
5. Who are some of the most noteworthy competitors over the years, and how did they fare?
Starting in the mid 80’s there was a Buffalo pipeline so to speak starting with EJ Pfister, his brother Mike, Tim Straub, Bill Weiss and countless other guys from Buffalo. In the early 2000’s, John Gaffney and Bob Rosen used to come down and play as well. EJ was the only Buffalo golfer to win in 1985 but many have tried.
See this page for year to year results – https://swnynwpa.com/year-by-year-statistics-3/
Locally, Ted Kochan (Elkdale) has won this tournament 9 times in the 60’s, the only year he didn’t win was 1969. He was by far the best golfer locally in that era. Dan Stetz (Bartlett) won 6 times in the 80’s. Chris Blocher (Bartlett), former St. Bona Golfer has won it 8 times since the late 90’s and just won last year at age 42. Kent Stauffer (Kirk’s brother) won it in 1979 – I think he played in a couple of US Opens in the 80’s. Kirk Stauffer won it in 1981. Finally, Ed Suchora, the current Park Country Club pro, won in 1993.
6. Describe for us the format of the event, and how it adds to the drama.
The dates for this years tournament are August 1st thru August 5th.
The format is the following:
Wednesday is qualifying day – the drama there is you have 100 golfers that are qualifying in 1 day to be seeded in the different flights, Championship Flight, 1st Flight, 2nd Flight, 3rd Flight, 4th Flight. Usually you have roughly 50 to 60 of those entries with a handicap of 8 or better that all think they can get in that 32 man Championship flight and on qualifying day the Bartlett greens are fast and everyone is gripping the club a little tighter and the cut usually will reside between 76 and 79 depending on the course that day. The drama unfolds usually with a playoff at the cut line, there may be 6 scores at 78 but there are only 2 spots left in the championship flight so there is a sudden death playoff in shootout format. I have seen a lot of good golfers miss the playoff and end up in the 1st flight which has made the 1st flight a really good flight as well. I also wanted to add the relationship the tournament has had with the St. Bonaventure Golf team over the past 20 years, the former coach is on the committee and he and the present coach has made it known they would like all of their players to play in this tournament to develop the camaraderie for the incoming freshman and to also get a feel for Bartlett since that is their home course. Over the years we usually get 6 or 7 players but this past year we had all 10 players in the tournament and the team has become a really good team in the past 10 years so that boosts the level of play in our tournament. Daniel Gianniny played this past year, I believe he came in 2nd in the Junior Masters a couple of years back. (Editor’s Note: Gianniny won the EAIJM in 2017)
Thursday is match play format where everyone in their perspective flights plays their first match in their flight. The losers in the championship flight get put into the Championship Consolation Flight which has become very competitive as well.
Friday Match play – Players play their 2nd match and the championship and championship consolation flights winners in the morning play a second match in the afternoon. Friday is always a good day because it’s all day event and there is good golf and a long day for some.
Saturday match play is the semi-final matches – only 1 match is played and i have always thought it’s kind of like the hangover day of a long week.
Sunday finals day – all flights play the finals and the championship flight plays a 36 hole match play with a morning match, lunch and then the afternoon match which starts around 1 PM which gets a lot of members and local people(Well over 100 (spectators) that will come out and watch the final match. Back in the 50’s thru the 80’s the final match was broadcast live over the radio station with my grandfather and father doing the broadcast.
7. How’s the state of your game? What are your plans for 2018?
Sadly I am now relegated to a once a week golfer, I will play in a few local tournaments. My game is still ok and sometimes I will have some rounds where everything clicks but inconsistency is prevalent. My plans for 2018 are when I am not driving my son around for travel baseball I will get a little practice in and I will try to cram all that practice in a week before the tournament and try to have it click tournament week.
8. If you could add a site that has never been used, for the 2019 event, what would it be and why?
I have always thought Moonbrook in Jamestown would be a good venue because of their greens but it would be just too far from the center of this tournament.
9. What question haven’t we asked about you and the tournament, that you would love to answer? Ask it and answer it, please.
What are you doing about the senior golfer that still wants to play competitive golf?
For years we have always tried to push an over 50 flight to get the competitive senior golfer to play with players their age, we have always tried to get a minimum of 8 but it never has worked out. Incidentally, back in the late 60’s, early 70’s my grandfather started an over 45 flight because he didn’t want to play against younger kids and that was popular for a short time.
This past year we started something new, we came up with an over 60 consolation flight. We started this because golf is aging, I don’t know what the average age is but it’s up there and we have a bunch of guys that recently turned 60 that are really good. We decided the format on the fly the night before the tournament, I think there were 13 or 14 guys in the tournament over 60, they qualified on Wednesday just like everyone else, they were all put into their perspective flights and played on Thursday, if they lost on Thursday we then seeded them according to their qualifying score in an 8 man flight that started on Friday. It was a hit, we had a guy in from Texas that was visiting and he was able to play in the tournament a few more days. We are going to see what kind of interest this year on trying to just have an over 60 flight or keep this consolation flight going.