MANATEE -- There are two inaugural golf tournaments this weekend for area fans to watch.
Pope Golf is running the Manatee County Amateur Championships at three county golf courses with a unique 54-hole format.
Down south, the West Florida Golf Tour -- the lone mini-tour operating along the Suncoast -- is holding the Sarasota Open for area professionals and top amateurs at Laurel Oak Country Club.
For Pope Golf, the decision to host an amateur-only event was a no-brainer once it leased Manatee Golf Course and Buffalo Creek Golf Course and took over management of River Wilderness Golf and Country Club.
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"This is a brand new event in Manatee County as far as I'm aware," Pope Golf marketing director Ryan Henderson said. "The Pope Golf Management, having the three courses in Manatee County, we wanted to highlight each of them and give the golfer a different challenge each day."
The 70-player field has four flights: women's, women's senior, men's senior and championship.
Tee times begin at 8:03 a.m. for Friday's first round at Manatee Golf Course. The subsequent rounds will be held Saturday at Buffalo Creek and Sunday at River Wilderness.
"Manatee actually just reopened, as they were closed for the past 90 days while they underwent a greens renovation," Henderson said. "We put all new TifEagle grass on the greens, and the layout at Manatee County Golf Course is a totally different challenge from that of Buffalo Creek and River Wilderness. The new greens will be a new addition to the golfers registered in the event."
The tournament, which is open to the public at no charge, features two main challengers for the title.
They are Bradenton Christian's Philip Knowles and Phil Walters, the latter having won the City of Bradenton and City of Sarasota Men's Amateur championships in the past as well as other City of Bradenton team titles.
"This is the inaugural, so we definitely plan to have this particular county am (amateur) run annually," Henderson said. "I think we are open to running other events throughout the year, but this particular event will run annually."
The Sarasota Open is a four-day, 72-hole event that features a bevy of top area professionals vying .
Sam Osborne, a previous Palmetto resident, qualified for the 2012 U.S. Open and is in the field as well as Nick Lindheim, who ranks atop the WFGT's money list for 2013.
The wrinkle for the tournament is that it's a walking event, and it is cut in the same mold as the WFGT's Longboat Key Open that was held in November.
"We completed the pro-am (Wednesday) and the guys really liked it," WFGT tournament director Christian Bartolacci said. "We're super excited. ... It's something different. We always play on golf carts, so the fact that the players can walk presents new challenges for them. It's really good, because it's right before Q-School. .... They have to walk there, so this is a good test for them."
The tournament, which boasts a 96-player field, is the first for the WFGT following its Summer Tour, which concluded a couple weeks ago with the Tour Championship at Lakewood Ranch Golf & Country Club.
This week's Sarasota Open, which begins Thursday, is the first WFGT major championship. Other majors include the event on Longboat Key, the Lakewood Ranch Open and the Florida Championship at World Worlds in Brooksville.
Like the Manatee County Amateur Championships, the tournament is open to the public at no cost.