Jeff Berkshire will be the defending champion next week when the 82nd Arizona Amateur Championship heads for the private confines of Desert Mountain Golf Club.
It marks the first time that Desert Mountain — the sixth and final course designed by Jack Nicklaus at what might be Scottsdale’s most highly acclaimed golf complex — has hosted the event.
“I’ve played the Outlaw course once,’’ said Berkshire, a Litchfield Park resident who plays for Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. “I liked it a lot. It’s really challenging.’’
The tournament has a long and storied history of being hosted at the state’s top venues, which for the most part have been private clubs. Last year it was held at Southern Dunes in Maricopa, where Berkshire edged the University of Arizona’s Brian Prouty with a six-foot birdie on the last hole.
It was sweet revenge for Berkshire, who the previous year had lost to Prouty in the second round of the Amateur. But defending his title is no big deal, said the 22-year-old Berkshire.
“I don’t feel too much pressure. Having won, it’s easier to go out and just play. It also gives me a ton of confidence to win something like that. Golf is 80 percent confidence; everybody knows that.’’
He will need all he can muster, as 143 other players also will vie for the title. The list starts with Ken Kellaney, who has won a record five Arizona Amateurs. And Kellaney shows no signs of letting up, as he currently leads the Arizona Golf Association’s performance points list after already winning the Arizona Public Links Championship to go with the East Valley Short Course Championship.
There are others with game, like Anthem’s Tim Duffey, who is second on the points list, and Phoenix’s Charles Kingsbaker, the former Oregon State All-American who earlier this year captured the Phoenix City Championship. And never count out Chandler’s Bryan Hoops, the AGA Player of the Year in 2005 who was eliminated on the 20th hole by Berkshire in the first round of last year’s Amateur.
But the chief challenge could come from Scottsdale’s Chris Kessler, who is on a roll after recently winning the Arizona Mid-Amateur Championship. Kessler is a former assistant pro at Desert Mountain who has since got his amateur status back.
“I was up there a few days ago, and (the Outlaw) is in terrific shape, one of the best-conditioned courses in the state,’’ said Kessler, 34, who now is in the banking business.
Kessler said the Scottish linksstyle layout, which will play at 6,937 yards for the Amateur, is not a traditional desert course.
“There aren’t a lot of forced carries,’’ he said. “There is some room around the greens, and some areas you can get in trouble. (Overall) it will reward an aggressive player.’’
Especially with the format being match play, Kessler added. “If you goof up, there is another hole to play, unless, of course, you run out of holes.’’
Arizona Amateur Championship
When: Monday through Saturday of next week; play begins each day at 7:30 a.m.
Where: Outlaw Course at Desert Mountain Golf Club
Format: Stroke-play qualifying on Monday and Tuesday, with the top 64 players advancing to match play. The winner will need to win six matches beginning Wednesday, culminating with the finale on Saturday morning.