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Links with locals: Heavy hitters take their hacks

For the initial edition of Golf Extra, I lined up a couple of heavy hitters – in the world of high school football – to play 18 holes.

On Tuesday, I had the extreme pleasure of teeing it up with Amboy coach Gary Jones and Newman coach Mike Papoccia at Emerald Hill in Sterling. They've both been at their schools for more than 3 decades, and have built football programs to be envied.

I used to play a fair amount of golf with Jones at Shady Oaks Country Club near Amboy until the late 1990s, when I decided to join another course, Sunset Golf Course in Mount Morris. Jones had been slowed by a balky knee, to the point he had a knee replacement a few years ago, but is getting around better these days – and playing more golf.

Papoccia noted he was all but raised at Emerald Hill, playing about 45 holes a day there during the summer as a kid, and even sneaking a dip in the course swimming pool between rounds. Whenever I'd see Mike at just about any Newman sporting event except football, we'd chew the fat about golf, but this is the first time we had the opportunity to play together.

A wily veteran, Papoccia noted he'd been staining the deck at his house for the previous 3 days, and the resulting aches and pains could play havoc with his golf swing. I'm not sure if he was angling for strokes or what, but I stressed it was simply a friendly round, and he promptly striped one down the middle of the first fairway on the way to a routine par.

Papoccia was particularly solid until hole No. 7, where the sticky Emerald Hill rough got the best of him on the way to a double bogey. Perhaps sensing an opening, Jones dunked a deft chip from a tricky spot just off the green for a birdie.

"Get your typewriter out," he said to me. "That's going to be from 80 yards out by the time I'm done talking about."

Jones made the turn in 37, four strokes ahead of Papoccia, and both had noteworthy shots. Jones had the chip-in, while Papoccia had a skulled shot into a deep-faced bunker fronting the green at the par-4 third hole that somehow crawled onto the putting surface.

"What was that?" I yelled from across the fairway. "You couldn't do that again with a bucket of balls."

"I didn't even go to church today," he replied.

The back nine featured more great conversation than great golf, and honestly, that was more fun. Both coaches talked about how difficult it is to play against St. Bede and the Bruins' crafty longtime coach, John Bellino.

They talked the emergence of Erie-Prophetstown as a Big Rivers football force.

They talked about having no involvement with the alumni football games to be played at various sites next month – and liking it that way.

The really good stuff, we'll just keep amongst ourselves.

As for our scorecards, Jones finished with an 80, just missing a birdie putt on the final hole to break into the 70s. Papoccia carded an 89, but played some really solid golf with the exception of a couple of holes.

Me, I was fortunate enough to tour the course in 73. Kudos to C.J. Wade and his staff – the course is in excellent condition.

Not sure what will be on the agenda for next week – guess I'll just see where the wind takes me. I do have a request for area golfers, however.

When I am on vacation in a couple of weeks, I would like to include on this golf-exclusive page a sampling of the favorite courses you have played and what made them so special. Just put together a few paragraphs and email them to me at or fax them to 815-625-9390.

I'm sure our area golfers have some interesting tales to tell.

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