It wasn’t exactly a perfect 10. But Shelley Stouffer overcame a case of confusion and a double-digit score on the 16th hole Sunday to pull out the low gross championship in the 26th annual Ladies Crystal Open golf tournament at Storey Creek Golf Club.
“Luckily I was a few shots ahead of the next person in my group,” Stouffer said dryly after posting a two-day, 36-hole total of 153, two strokes better than runner-up Karen Kloske.
Local golfer Julia Free of Storey Creek claimed the low-net title with a 137 that placed her four strokes ahead of Courtenay’s Anne Sands.
The premier women’s event on Vancouver Island and draws top players from across the province. Stouffer, a member of Nanoose Bay’s Fairwinds Golf Course, won her second straight Crystal Open and fourth overall, and holds the women’s course record at Storey Creek.
But, thanks in part to a misunderstanding of the rules, Stouffer departed the 16th green having lost most of that “few shots” lead after scoring a 10 more commonly associated with weekend hackers.
“It wasn’t pretty,” she admitted. “Hit into a hazard, take a drop, then hit a tree and watch (the ball) roll onto the bridge. After that, I took another drop and the ball fell right into a divot.”
The bridge, part of a course hazard, caused the biggest misunderstanding in Stouffer’s score. While addressing her shot there, she “grounded” the club, which is normally prohibited in a hazard area and assessed a two-stroke penalty.
The course marshal she consulted upheld the ruling, apparently unaware that the bridge, as an immovable object, is exempted from the grounding rule. The proper ruling would have given Stouffer an eight on the hole and a four-stroke lead over Kloske.
Instead, she was left with a two-stroke edge, which slipped to a single shot when Stouffer bogeyed 17.
Stouffer finally put the issue to rest and clinched the win when she parred the final hole as Kloske bogeyed 18. Adding to the confusion, Kloske had assumed all along that Stouffer was awarded an eight on the disastrous 16th hole.
“Karen had no idea it was that close,” Stouffer said.
“If I had known, I would have birdied (18),” Kloske replied with a laugh. “I thought I was four behind.”
Stouffer first won the Ladies Crystal Open in 1995, then turned professional two years later. After playing professionally for most of a decade, she returned to the amateur ranks and won here again in 2009. Last summer, she got her third victory while setting the ladies’ course standard.
“This is one of my favourite courses,” Stouffer said. “There are no houses around, so you feel like you’re in nature. And I haven’t seen greens this good probably ever. They were phenomenal.”
That was borne out in Stouffer’s putting. The black mark of her 10 aside, Stouffer enjoyed two rounds that included eight birdie putts on the weekend.
“A lot of birds,” Kloske said. “She putted lights-out.”
This year’s tournament reached full capacity and left a waiting list of players trying to get in, tourney coordinator Liza Hadfield said.
“A lot of ladies tournaments have gone to gimmicks to try to keep up attendance,” Hadfield noted. “We are one of the very few two-day, competitive tournaments for ladies, and I think that’s a big part of the draw. That, and the course. Probably two-thirds of our players are repeat people. They love it here.”
Stouffer agreed, noting the tourney’s value with two days of golf, three meals and a prize table with nearly $7,000 worth of goods and money donated by local businesses.
“This tournament is famous for its excellent food and excellent prizes, and that’s because of the huge support of our business community,” said Hadfield.
Shelley Stouffer of Nanoose Bay’s Fairwinds Golf Course claimed her second straight low-gross title — and fourth overall — at the Ladies Crystal Open golf tournament at Storey Creek Golf Club Sunday. — J.R. Rardon/Campbell River Mirror