Beau Forrest and Halycon Swisher finally got the big prize for which they were looking Sunday at the Kenai Peninsula Open at Birch Ridge Golf Course.
Swisher, of Anchorage, cruised to the women’s title with a two-day total of 18-over 162, while 2019 Soldotna High School graduate Danica Schmidt was next at 186. The KPO women’s division doubled as the Women’s State Amateur this year, giving Swisher that title for the first time in what she said is five or six tries.
Forrest, an Idaho golfer who grew up playing at Birch Ridge, won his first title as a pro and $1,500 by overcoming California golfer Aaron Dexheimer, who also grew up at Birch Ridge, on the final hole. Forrest finished at 3-under 141, while Dexheimer, who won $1,200, was at 143. James Contreras shot 153 to finish third and take home $800.
The men’s non-professional title went to Birch Ridge employee Nolan Rose at 9-over 153, while Marcus Dolejsi was second at 155 and Homer’s Chris Morin was third at 158.
Jeff Barnhart, the executive director of the Alaska Golf Association, said the Women’s State Amateur was supposed to happen with the men from July 11 to 14 at Palmer Golf Course, but did not due to lack of players.
Barnhart said Birch Ridge offered to host the event in conjunction with the KPO and Barnhart agreed because it exposes a new group of golfers to the State Amateur.
Swisher was the only women’s golfer to come from off the peninsula to play.
“I love playing in the women’s amateur, I love playing with women in the state of Alaska and I love playing competitive golf,” Swisher said. “I went to college for it.”
Swisher started with two years at Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, Washington, before going to Division I Alcorn State in Lorman, Mississippi for a redshirt year and two years of competitive golf.
A Friday practice round was the first time she played Birch Ridge. Saturday, she got a quick introduction to the trouble that lurks on the seemingly easy layout went she birdied the first hole, but triple bogeyed the second hole.
“I had a birdie on the first hole, a triple on the second hole, and it was smooth sailing from there,” Swisher said.
She tried to stay out of trouble at all costs. She also putted well, which she said is vital at Birch Ridge because anything on the lip stays out, while putts on the lip in Anchorage usually drop.
“This course definitely shows who the good putters are,” she said.
The battle for the pro title featured two of the course’s favorite sons in Forrest and Dexheimer. Dexheimer won the amateur division in 2001, while Forrest had amateur titles in 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Neither had won the KPO as a pro.
“I feel like Phil Mickelson to Tiger Woods,” Forrest said. “My entire life I’ve been losing to Aaron Dexheimer.
“I’ve been playing against him as long as I can remember. He’s hard to beat.”
In April 2018, Forrest entered the PGA apprentice program but found himself falling out of love with golf. On Jan. 1 of this year, a member of his club offered him a land surveyor job and he’s been full-time ever since while still playing golf three or four times a week.
When Forrest’s sister, Audrey Forrest, gave birth to daughter Lila Jane Boman on Aug. 15, it was the perfect opportunity to come to Alaska to see family and play in the KPO.
Dexheimer now focuses on teaching rather than playing golf. He is an instructor at Del Mar Country Club just north of San Diego and has seven pros under his tutelage at various levels below the PGA Tour. His goal is to instruct Tour golfers one day.
After spending six weeks commercial fishing on the peninsula earlier this summer, and also picking up a win in the All-Alaska Pro Skins Game at Birch Ridge, Dexheimer came back specifically to play in the KPO. It’s the one pro event in Alaska he has never won.
“This is where I learned to play golf and I went on to play pro at various levels, so I want to support this course whenever I can,” he said.
The two, who have played over 100 rounds together at Birch Ridge according to Dexheimer, went back and forth over the course of two days until Dexheimer led by one stroke headed to the 18th hole Sunday.
Forrest had seen heartbreak on No. 18 before, losing a playoff for the championship to Rob Nelson in 2017. But this time, Dexheimer tugged his tee shot left and took a lost ball. Forrest made a par 4, while Dexheimer took a 7, to decide the tournament.
“It’s amazing,” Forrest said. “I wouldn’t have traveled over 2,000 miles if I didn’t plan on winning.
“I feel validated after all the work I’ve put into my game. Winning in my hometown means everything.”
As a former employee of the course, Forrest thanked co-owners Zac and Anna Cowan and groundskeeper Bill Engberg for all they do to keep the course running.
Rose is a former pro golfer. He did not play a round for three years due to a busy life that includes a baby, coaching the Soldotna High boys varsity basketball team and a new job. But Rose left that job to come back to work at Birch Ridge for the summer, started playing again on July 8 and has been playing nearly every day since.
He won his second amateur title, with the first coming in 2009.
Rose said his game is not consistent enough to play with Dexheimer and Forrest yet, but he thinks he will be back to the level a year from now.
“I’m not leaving golf again,” he said.
Golf is a difficult game, and frustrations add up, but Rose said he learned about his overall love for the game in his three years off.
So when he would drive well only to putt poorly, and putt well only to drive poorly, and see 10 putts lip over the course of the two days, he still had that love to make it all enjoyable.
“It’s a great game,” he said. “It’s the one sport where you can stay competitive well into your 60s and 70s. It’s great to be back in golf.”
Men’s low net went to Steve Tachick at 129, while Bill Haese was second at 142 and Darell Jelsma, the gross champ last year, was third at 144. For the women, Sally Hoagland had the top net score at 147, while Vicki Hollingsworth was next at 148.
In Friday’s horse race, George Collum and Hoagland won, while Jelsma and Khalid Jurdi were second and Heath Martin and Haese were third.
Saturday closest to the pins went to Fred Zumbuhl and Hoagland, while Saturday pro closest to the pins went to Dexheimer and Forrest. Sunday closest to the pins went to Nolan Rose, while Dexheimer and Collum won for the pros Sunday.
Saturday net skins went to Robert Stiver, Danica Schmidt, Jared Ramm and Tachick, while Saturday gross skins went to Stiver, Eddie Sibolboro, Dexheimer, Forrest and Zac Cowen. Friday gross skins were won by Dexheimer, while Friday net skins went to Dave Matthews and Tom Sindor. Sunday net skins went to Sue Stein, Juan Botero, Matthews and Gary Dawkins. Sunday gross skins went to Morin, Martin, Derek O’Neill, Matthews and Forrest.
Kenai Peninsula Open
at Birch Ridge Golf Course
Sat Sun Net Grs
Beau Forrest, $1,500 68 73 — 141
Aaron Dexheimer, $1,200 67 76 — 143
James Contreras, $800 77 76 — 153
Brandon Kaiser, $600 87 77 — 159
Derek O’Neill, $400 86 74 — 160
Zac Cowan, $150 78 83 — 161
George Collum, $150 79 82 — 161
Halycon Swisher 82 80 146 162
Danica Schmidt 96 90 154 186
Sally Hoagland 97 100 147 197
Vicki Hollingsworth 102 96 148 198
Teresa Sibolboro 95 104 159 199
Rita Geller 94 106 154 200
Sue Stein 109 98 157 207
Nolan Rose 76 77 145 153
Marcus Dolejsi 79 76 147 155
Chris Morin 84 74 148 158
Eddie Sibolboro 77 85 144 162
Jason Kelly 84 82 158 166
Heath Martin 85 82 161 167
Nick Karnos 84 86 158 170
Sid Cox 84 86 158 170
Shane Sundberg 90 82 156 172
Cliff Copus 89 85 150 174
Nick Beeson 89 87 170 176
Darell Jelsma 90 86 144 176
Steve Tachick 92 87 129 179
Robert Stiver 86 95 151 181
Gary Gerfen91 92 153 183
Mike Hollingsworth 90 94 162 184
Scott Sundberg 97 87 148 184
Jared Ramm 90 96 148 186
Bill Haese 92 94 142 186
Khalid Jurdi 95 93 168 188
Tim Bower 93 96 155 189
George Stein 101 88 165 189
Dave Matthews 102 90 172 192
Michael Kelly 92 102 174 194
Jared Wood 101 95 170 196
Gary Dawkins 105 95 146 200
Fred Zumbuhl 104 97 157 201
Tom Sindorf 102 100 148 202
Juan Botero 108 96 174 204
Fred Launer 111 110 171 221