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Course the biggest challenge at State Am

Jimmy Banyas hasn't played Ansley Golf Club Settindown Creek often, but he doesn't lack for a candid description of the course.

"It's hard," the Duluth resident said. "The first time I played there I lost seven balls. The second time I played it, I lost five balls.

"It's a very, very demanding golf course."

And that course is the host of this year's Georgia Amateur Championship starting today and going through Sunday. This is the course's second time hosting the Georgia Amateur, the last time in 2007 when Harris English of Thomasville won it with a four-day total of 288. In this year's iteration of Settindown Creek that translates to an even-par finish. David Noll Jr. won last year's tournament with a 6-under par 274 at the Cherokee Town and Country Club.

"It's one of those, if you take a shot off, you are going to end up dropping or re-teeing," said Duluth's Bubba Gwyn. "You've got a better chance of finding something you don't want to find before you find your golf ball if you hit it crooked."

Buford resident Terry Rush played at the Amateur in 2007 and remembers how tough it played. He played it Wednesday and said not much has changed.

"It is a tough golf course," the 46-year-old Rush said. "There are some birdie holes out there. But there are other holes, like the par 3s, where you're happy to get a 3.

"You have to try to take advantage of some of the birdie holes out there and avoid the huge blowup holes. If you do that you'll be around even par."

Banyas, Gywn and Rush are three of nearly 20 competitors in this year's field who claim a Gwinnett city as home and they are seeking to be the first local winner since Dacula's Rick Cloninger won the event in 1999.

Gywn, a Duluth graduate, owns his own construction company, Rush, who grew up in Stone Mountain and graduated from Georgia Tech, is a manufacturing sales rep and Banyas works in the IT field. Banyas spent his day Wednesday, while Rush and others were playing practice rounds sitting at his desk in Johns Creek.

"I work 50 hours a week behind a desk," Banyas said. "Going out against these college kids and what I call these touring amateurs, it will be a good test of golf. I am looking forward to the week."

Northview graduate and current golfer at Armstrong Atlantic State in Savannah Gus Wagoner will play with his college teammate Travis Williamson today and Friday and co-signs on the course's challenge.

"There are a lot of demanding shots off the tee and around the green," Wagoner said.

Parkview graduate Peter Kim, a student but not a golfer at Georgia State, played his home course of Heritage Golf Links in Tucker as his tune-up Wednesday. He works with a coach and plays as often as he can, but called this his first "big tournament" in a while.

"I just want to try to play with better golfers," Kim said.

And Kim is playing pretty well. He qualified with a 75 at Snellville's Summit Chase. Rush, who learned to play from his dad, was the low medalist with a 68 at Jennings Mill in Bogart. But this is not Summit Chase or Jennings Mill and the plan is to increase the difficulty for the players who make the cut.

For the weekend rounds, the par 4s Nos. 3 and 11 will be extended. Number three from 399 yards to 434 and No. 11 from 406 to 448. Number six is a 268-yard par 4 and No. 12 is a par 3 playing nearly 220.

"That golf course is so mentally challenging," Gwyn said. "It's a matter of staying focused for 18 holes and not seeing trouble. If I can get the right mental ability I think I can play well."

"This is a good golf course to have a big tournament like this," Kim said.