BY BRAD ZIEMER
KELOWNA – Cory Renfrew had the course record for about 45 minutes on Thursday. It was fun while it lasted.
Renfrew carded a six-under 65 at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club that broke the long-standing competitive course record previously held by 13-time B.C. Amateur champion Doug Roxburgh of Vancouver.
But not long after the Victoria native had concluded his post-round interviews, Caleb Sturgeon of South Carolina drained a 30-foot putt for birdie on the 18th green to post a seven-under 64.
It was that kind of day during the first round of the inaugural $175,000 GolfBC Championship. It rained birdies as the pros on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada circuit took advantage of perfect scoring conditions and had their way with Gallagher’s Canyon. Seventy-one players broke 70 on Thursday.
“The greens are pretty soft, the fairways are wide compared to what we have been playing, so I’m expecting pretty low scores this week,” Sturgeon said.
Sturgeon had two eagles on his front nine. He holed his second shot on the par 4 second hole from 121 yards.
“The greens are soft and pure and I think you just have to keep it in play off the tee,” said Renfrew. “I was just relaxed from the get-go, even though I started with a bogey on my second hole. I just stayed patient, had fun with my caddie out there. We were picking good numbers and making good swings.”
Renfrew is tied for second with Vaita Guillaume of French Polynesia and Jake Knapp of Costa Mesa, Calif., who both fired their 65s late in the day. Knapp Monday qualified his way into the event.
Renfrew came to Gallagher’s highly motivated after missing the cut last week at his home-town event at Uplands Golf Club in Victoria.
“Definitely, I was motivated for sure,” Renfrew said. “I worked hard over the weekend and regrouped mentally and came in here with a little different attitude, to kind of go get it instead of letting it come to me. I am happy with the way I played today and hopefully I can keep it going.”
He is going to have to. The players expect it could take 20-under or better to win this week.
“I’m thinking 20-plus under is going to win,” said West Vancouver’s Seann Harlingten, who opened with a three-under 68 despite four bogeys. “There are more scoreable holes than last week when 20-under won.”
“I think a lot of it depends on what weather comes in,” added Vancouver’s Ryan Williams, who shot a five-under 66 and is in an eight-way tie for fifth place. “If we get a bit of rain the golf course is going to play soft and guys can shoot at pins, but if the greens firm up and get quicker it is definitely going to play harder. Sometimes you can say 20-under is the number, but it could be 15 or something.”
Apart from missing a four-foot putt for birdie on the 18th green, Williams was pleased with his round.
“It’s a real good start,” he said. “I was feeling pretty fatigued the last few days, so I didn’t play yesterday. To come out today and play the way I did is pretty rewarding. The course is in great, great shape right now. The greens are rolling as pure as can be. We played in next to nothing of wind. But it was a good start, for sure.”
Langley’s Adam Cornelson, the winner last week in Victoria, opened with a one-under 70.
“I didn’t have my best stuff today,” Cornelson said. “I made a sloppy bogey on No. 1 that made me realize, okay, this is a new week. But I am happy with the way I fought it out. Honestly, the way I played I could have been a couple over. I birdied two of the last three to get it under par. That is what I am going to think about, the finish.”
Jacqueline Bendrick, a 19-year-old amateur from Mercer Island, Wash., shot a nine-over 80. Bendrick, who just completed her sophomore year of collegiate golf at Furman University in South Carolina, is the first woman to play on the tour since PGA Tour Canada began operating it in 2013.
One of her playing partners Thursday was John Mlikotic, an assistant pro at Gallagher’s. Mlikotic, who played collegiate golf for Simon Fraser University, shot a three-under 68. Mlikotic ended his round in style when he deposited his approach shot on the par 4 18th hole inches from the cup for a tap-in birdie.
Former Masters champion Mike Weir dropped by Gallagher’s Canyon on Thursday to offer support for Danny Sahl, the Edmonton native who has spent considerable time caddying for Weir in recent years. Sahl, who has exempt status on the tour this year, shot a two-under 69.