Numbers are going up at the Signal Mountain Invitational.
The tournament is now 77 years old, participation is up to 129 golfers, and scores are higher than golfers can remember for years.
Only two players broke par Friday, and two shot even.
Matt Robertson shot a 2-under 69 and leads by one stroke over Riley Davidson. Cody Godfrey and Richard Spangler are tied for third at 71.
"I hit it all over the golf course, but I putted well until the back nine, when I put it above the hole six or seven times," said Robertson, who made six birdies, two bogeys and a double-bogey. "If you hit it to 30 feet, you're hoping to two-putt. It's firm."
Defending champion Chris Schmidt estimated that he played in his first Signal Mountain Invitational about 30 years ago as a 16-year-old.
"I've never seen it play this firm, and I've never seen it play like this," Schmidt said after his 75. "The difference is the firmness of the greens. You can't stop a ball anywhere around the cup even with a simple wedge."
Schmidt won last year with an 8-under 205.
"You could charge admission on Sunday to watch this," Schmidt said. "If we have the same conditions for another 36 holes, nobody will break par, and that's hard to believe for Signal Mountain."
Spangler has been in contention to win the SMI in recent years. He signed his scorecard and let a big sigh as he fell into a chair exhausted after his round, which ended in a light drizzle.
"You have to be patient out there," said Spangler, who had three birdies and three bogeys. "Every hole, even if you have a wedge in your hand, you're trying to figure out how to make a par. It's hard."
The difficulty of the course will be tackled again by a field that started with about 20 more players than last year, according to head golf professional Paul Helle. Several factors likely contributed to the rise, but Helle said it could be a sign of increased participation across the region.
"The fact that the Cleveland Invitational was rained out probably helped with our field," said Helle, noting that this is the first Chattanooga TPC series event of the year. "I think people love the tradition, and the fact it's a three-day event attracts players, because there aren't very many of those."
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...