For Saginaw District Open Division champion Bruce Eccleton golf is something that has surrounded him since childhood; but it turned out to be much more than a surreal childhood fantasy when he managed to edge out three-time defending champion Matt Pumford at Apple Mountain during a sudden death playoff last year, whereby Eccleton managed to nail a pair of Eagle shots in the final round to secure the 2015 title and his first District championship.
The former Mott Community College and Northwood University golfer has competed in the district tournament since his days playing for Saginaw Heritage in high school, but has actually engaged with the sport since his early days of childhood. “My parents own Pleasant View Golf Course,” explains Bruce, “so I started swinging a club at the age of three and began playing the course at the age of five. I’ve always been around golf and even when we moved temporarily to Ann Arbor, my Grandpa owned a course there, so I’ve always been around the game. My aunts and uncles all ran courses so everybody golfs in my family.”
Eccleton is also no stranger to tournament play, as back in his college days he would play in at least fifteen tournaments a year. With that experience behind him, how does Bruce feel the Saginaw District compares and what does he feel is the most challenging component involved with it?
“From a player’s perspective it’s like any other tournament, only the field is a little limited to Saginaw golfers,” he explains. “The contestant fields aren’t as big as college tournaments, but the courses we play are just as tough. Apple Mountain, the Saginaw Country Club, and The Sawmill each poses their own challenges.”
“All three of them are different and with that whole back nine at The Sawmill, you have to be very accurate,” he continues. “The Saginaw Country Club is shorter but the fairways are tight and you have to hit the fairways straight on a regular basis. The greens are always quick, as are those at The Sawmill; but the biggest challenge there is navigating that back nine. Placement shots are important.”
What was his reaction to winning last year’s Saginaw District with a pair of Eagle shots – is this something he’s ever experienced before, or was it a first?
“I’ve never hit two eagles in a single tournament let alone in a round of golf, so it was pretty surreal,” he recalls. “I wasn’t expecting much going in because I was so far back and the guys that were at the top are all incredibly strong golfers, so I didn’t think I had much of a chance. But things started clicking and my first birdie came around the 8th hole,” he continues. “Then I started making putts and got some good swings in, so it doesn’t get much better.”
This year the Saginaw District is getting rid of their qualifying round, which is largely a by-product of fewer younger golfers coming up through the ranks as they once did. Given that Eccleton himself is in his mid-20s, what are his thoughts on that specific topic? Why aren’t newer generations of kids getting involved with golf as they once did?
“I think it’s the time we’re living in,” he responds. “Everything nowadays is immediate and golf is a patient sport, so it takes time to evolve and get better. Kids today have so many different options for immediate gratification that I believe that’s one factor. Plus, golf isn’t a cheap sport to engage in and you do have to invest a lot of time.”
“I still play 3-4 times a week and am on a couple different leagues, plus I still play with a couple buds from high school and few others that I’ve picked up over the past few years; but they all can get around the course. I play golf with anybody that wants to play; they don’t have to be a star golfer because I have a good time regardless.”
From his own lifelong experience with the game, what does Bruce feel are the most common mistakes made by novice golfers and people trying to improve their game?
“For beginners it’s probably a lack of guidance on the course,” he reflects. “You have to get the basics down before you start swinging away; and I can’t tell you how many guys I swing off their back foot and continue to repeat that mistake. It’s important to find guidance from any guy that knows how to swing a club and learn the basics. You might not be great, but once you get it down you will get better and better.”
“The short game may be the hardest to master,” he continues, “but you’ll see the biggest improvements in your long game when you stop dribbling the ball 100 yards down the fairway. But half the round is still played on the green, so in tournaments it usually comes down to chipping and putting and not leaving any strokes. The guy that makes the putts usually wins.”
While Eccleton’s championship win last year was a decided high-water point in his golf career, he does recall a few other moments that stick out in his memory. “A lot of my best golf moments have come with the District,” he notes. “A couple years ago when the tournament was at The Saginaw Country Club I didn’t play very well the whole weekend, but on the last hole of that tournament I was 170 yards out from the green and managed to make an eagle on that one as well!”
Bruce says that he’s played in the Saginaw District for nine years now and started when he was sixteen or seventeen. “I missed the cut the first year, but haven’t missed a cut yet. Three years ago at The Sawmill I finished second; and at Maple Hill I finished third, and four years ago I believe I finished 4th or 5th.”
“Basically, you must be able to play well under pressure,” concludes Bruce. “I have that competitive edge and don’t really know how to explain it, but I do enjoy the pressure of playing tournament golf.”
“The key is to focus on the task at hand and what you need to accomplish. Every situation is different and sometimes you’ll be a few shots back and need to press it a little bit. It doesn’t always work out for you, but I like to know where I’m at personally. Last year when I won the championship I found that I was only two or three strokes back and went for it on that par 5. But you can’t make any mistakes and need to focus and execute whatever shot you need to position you where you want to be.”
9th February, 2024