Mike Cushing will be looking to repeat as Bloomington-Normal City Match Play champion in the 100th edition of the tournament, starting with Saturday's qualifying round at Weibring Golf Club.

NORMAL — The Bloomington-Normal Men's City Golf Tournament got its start in 1918. Horace Soper won the first of his five straight titles.

Luckily, the golfers in town back then just didn't give up. 

Soper eventually was beaten by Henry Capen in 1923 when the format changed from match play to stroke play for a year. Since then, 48 golfers have prevailed and earned the unofficial moniker of "city champion."

The tourney, which is now known as the Bloomington-Normal City Match Play Championship (although still called the "City Tournament" by veteran golfers), will celebrate its 100th anniversary beginning this weekend.

Qualifying will be Saturday at Weibring Golf Club at Illinois State. Golfers can sign up for available tee times until noon. The low 31 qualifiers will join defending champion Mike Cushing in the championship flight, with 16 golfers in other flights.

There is also a senior division for those 55 and over. 

To commemorate the centennial tourney, Bloomington Country Club will serve as host to all championship flight matches — as well as semifinal and final matches in other flights — for the first time since 1963.

"It (BCC) is the oldest course in town and the membership stepped up," said Cushing, a three-time Match Play champion. "It's pretty cool. Usually we get a good gathering (of spectators) during the Medal Play (at BCC)."

Cushing won all three Bloomington-Normal Golf Association events last year — the Match Play, Two-Man Best Position (with Tom Kearfott) and Medal Play. He became the third golfer to accomplish that feat, joining Kearfott (1994) and Kyle English (2009).

"I think I'm more comfortable with match play," said Cushing, who beat Brandon Mounce, 2 and 1, in last year's finals at Prairie Vista Golf Course. "You can be more aggressive. I don't make a ton of birdies, but in match play you can swing away. There's a different mentality."

Following are some historical facts about the Match Play tourney gleaned from Pantagraph files.

MOST TITLES: Frank Niepagen began a remarkable 13-year run in 1966, capturing his first crown with a 2 and 1 victory over Mike Orrison in the finals at Illinois State Golf Course.

Niepagen prevailed again in 1968, 1974, 1976, 1977 and 1979 to become the only six-time champion. Niepagen also advanced to the finals in 1981 and 1992.

Joining Soper as five-time champions are Keith Johnson, Brad Barker and Kearfott.

THREE IN A ROW: No one has been able to match Soper's five-year reign at the top. In fact, no other golfer has managed four straight victories.

Johnson took the title in five of six years from 1933-38. Frank Grimm interrupted the streak in 1936 when Johnson lost his first-round match.

Those joining Johnson as winning three straight include Hal Stone Jr. (1945-47) and Todd Mitchell (2005-07). The only other time Mitchell has played since was 2014, when he won again. He is not entered in this year's tourney.

FOUR-DECADE MAN: Barker won the first of his five titles as a 20-year-old in 1972, beating Doug Holloway in the finals at ISU Golf Course.

Barker added titles in three other decades. He won back-to-back crowns in 1986-87, prevailed in 1991 in 37 holes against Dave Coffman and then triumphed in 2003 at age 51.

Maybe Barker isn't done yet. He has entered this year's tournament for the first time since 2005.

Kearfott nearly matched Barker's accomplishment, winning in three decades (1988, 1993, 1994, 1997 and 2015) but losing in the finals twice in another decade (2000, 2001). 

SUDDEN DEATH RARE: Barker's win in 1991 was the last time the championship match has gone to sudden death.

The 36-hole title match has only gone extra holes five times. The longest matches were 38 holes in 1971 (John Bova over Rick Jackson) and 1978 (Schwulst over Phil Weber).

Besides 1923, the tourney also was contested at stroke play from 1929-32, 1937, 1943-46 and 1954. The Bloomington-Normal Medal Play Tournament began in 1961.

YOUNG AND OLD: Charles Agle Jr. is believed to be the tourney's youngest champion. He was 17 when he captured the title in 1925.

The oldest winner? That seems to be Elston Mitchell, who was 57 when he won his third title (and second straight) in 2001.

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Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @Pg_Benson



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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