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Kittanning Country Club gears up for Classic

Bragging-rights season at Kittanning Country Club begins this weekend, as members will pair with guests to compete in the first of the club's three major golf tournaments.

Twenty-four member-guest tandems will participate in the Kittanning Country Club Classic, which opens with practice rounds Thursday. Competition starts Friday and continues Saturday with round-robin action. The five-team, playoff-style final is Saturday evening.

"What's kind of cool about it is, for a little amateur tournament, we end up with two teams playing on the final hole and a nice-sized gallery," Kittanning Country Club general manager Greg McKelvey said. "For the average, Joe Blow golfer, it's a pretty big deal to play out there in front of a crowd like that."

There will be four flights with six teams in each for the round-robin phase -- flight groupings are based on team handicaps. Teams play three nine-hole matches with best-ball shot formats on Friday and play two more on Saturday. Winners of the four flights advance, along with the wild-card team with the most match points.

In the finals, partners alternate between shots instead of following a best-ball format. One team is eliminated after each hole until the champion emerges.

Predicting a championship favorite is a difficult task, McKelvey said, because team handicaps serve as equalizers. And because of the handicap factor, members have some flexibility in whom to choose for partners.

"The vast majority are longtime friends or family," McKelvey said.

Last year, Kirk Lorigan won the Classic with his father-in-law, Chuck Shoop. Lorigan entered the tournament with a 15 handicap. Shoop had a 19 handicap.

"We were not the best golfers out there by any means," said Lorigan, who also reached the finals with Shoop in 2009. "We kind of ham-and-egged it last year. When he didn't play well, I did. And when I didn't play well, he did."

Lorigan, who participated in the tournament the past five years, praised the Classic for its competitive yet congenial atmosphere. This year, Lorigan, West Shamokin High School's principal, will partner with the high school's athletic director, Tom McClaine, who has a 6 handicap.

"(Kittanning Country Club) has beautiful, fast greens," said McClaine, who has played the course just a few times. "Compared with other courses I've played in Western Pennsylvania, they're among the fastest."

A win again this year would give Lorigan bragging rights that extend beyond Kittanning Country Club. Lorigan's former partner, Shoop, will team up with Lorigan's brother-in-law, Rick Ford. Another of Lorigan's family members, Pete Shoop, also is in the tournament. The three teams are in different flights.

"It'd be pretty far-fetched for all three of us to make it to the finals," Lorigan said. "But if we did, that'd really be quite a thing."

Kittanning Country Club's other two major tournaments are scheduled for August. The club championship is Aug. 7, McKelvey said, and the member-member team tournament is Aug. 20-21.

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