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Golf notebook: Barto posts first IJGT win

| Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 12:13 a.m.
For the Tribune-Review
Leechburg junior golfer Matt Barto hits out of the sand on the 16th hole during the WPIAL Class AA individual finals at Youghiogheny Country Club in McKeesport on Sept. 24, 2012.
Eric Felack | Trib Total Media
Sean Knapp hits out of the bunker on the sixth hole en route to a par at the Pittsburgh Field Club during the Frank B. Fuhrer Invitational in Fox Chapel on Tuesday, June 26, 2012.

Leechburg's Matt Barto couldn't have imagined a better way to start his spring and summer golf season on the junior circuit.

Barto, the reigning WPIAL Class AA champion and PIAA runner-up, captured his first International Junior Golf Tour title, firing back-to-back 72s at the 36-hole Philly Challenge over the weekend in Malvern.

Battling bitter cold temperatures made worse by whipping winds, the Blue Devils junior took a four-shot lead into the final round of the 15-19 year-old tournament Sunday and held off Moorestown's Kevin Kramarski by three shots. Tied with Kramarski after 33 holes, Barto sealed the win with birdies on two of the final three holes at White Manor Country Club.

“I felt really comfortable (going into the second round),” Barto said. “My ball-striking was good, and I just stayed patient and made my putts. Unbelievable day for my golfing career.”

Knapp time

Oakmont amateur Sean Knapp still could end up on the Champions Tour.

Knapp is planning to try senior qualifying school again for the 50-and-older circuit. The Q-school tournament is Nov. 12-15 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Knapp, who turned 51 this month, reached the final stage of qualifying in 2011 before losing in a playoff.

He got a taste of the Champions Tour when he played in the U.S. Senior Open last July in Michigan.

Knapp, who always has quietly but not publicly entertained the thought of turning professional, did not try to qualify last year because of a busy schedule coaching basketball.

But he will have more time to work on his golf game now that he is no longer coaching basketball. He stepped down as an assistant with the Riverview girls team.

Knapp said he also is planning on playing a full schedule of amateur events this spring and summer. He is the reigning Western Pennsylvania Golf Association and state player of the year.

Phoenix update

The Phoenix may rise ... again?

The Phoenix at Buffalo Valley, formerly Buffalo Valley Country Club, will not open this season as owners weigh options for the business's future.

The course reopened in late summer of 2011. The land sat dormant from the time the country club shut down in 2007.

But one of the owners, Gary Nese, said the course has suspended operations for a year and could reopen at a later date. Grounds equipment, however, will go up for auction next month, which seems like a setback.

“It's a long-term investment,” Nese said. “We are re-evaluating long-term liability of the golf course.”

Nese said the restaurant may reopen earlier than the course.

“We're in the process of talking with a local restaurant operator,” he said. “We may lease out the restaurant. Our target date for that is May 1.”

Top teacher

Eric Johnson, Oakmont Country Club's Director of Instruction, was named among the Top 100 Teachers in America by Golf Digest.

He also made the magazine's “Top 40 Under 40” list of instructors the past two years.

Erickson a good fit

Bob Erickson, owner of Golf Augusta in Oakmont, has been named one of the “World's Top 100 Clubfitters” by the KZG club-fitting company.

Erickson has been named to the list four straight years.

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at

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