The competitive golf season for elite-level players is just getting started in Colorado, but one could easily make the case that the top tournament of the year in the state -- based on quality of field -- will conclude before the month of April is complete.
Some of the best amateurs in the world -- a handful of whom could very well be competing on the PGA Tour within several years -- will be on hand April 28-30 when Boulder Country Club hosts the men's Pac-12 Conference Championship.
Don't believe it?
Last year's individual champion at the event was Jon Rahm of Arizona State, who in his rookie season on the PGA Tour has won the Farmers Insurance Open and posted three other top-five finishes.
Other past Pac-12 (or Pac-8/Pac-10) champions include Tiger Woods (Stanford), Phil Mickelson (Arizona State), Al Geiberger (USC), Dave Stockton (USC), Corey Pavin (UCLA), Paul Casey (Arizona State), Scott Simpson (USC) and Peter Jacobsen (Oregon).
As for this year's field, it includes:
-- The No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, Stanford senior Maverick McNealy. He's one of six Pac-12 competitors ranked among the top 50 amateurs in the world. The others are USC junior Sean Crocker (eighth), Cal sophomore Collin Morikawa (ninth), ASU senior Jared du Toit (13th), USC senior Rico Hoey (17th), Oregon freshman Norman Xiong (34th) and Oregon senior -- and Colorado resident -- Wyndham Clark (48th).
-- The No. 1-ranked college player in the nation -- by both Golfstat and Golfweek, Clark, whose many successes include two college individual wins this season, along with two Colorado state high school titles and the 2010 CGA Amateur Championship. Clark is one of five Pac-12 players currently ranked among the nation's top 10 collegians.
-- The No. 1 team in the land, Southern California, along with two other top-10 men's golf schools: three-time defending Pac-12 champion Stanford and 2016 national champion Oregon.
"(How big a tournament this is), that's the message we're trying to get out there for sure," University of Colorado coach Roy Edwards said at Wednesday's Pac-12 media day event at BCC. "Jon Rahm, a PGA Tour Rookie of the Year shoe-in guy, won the championship last year. There's a number of those (kind of) guys this year. That's something people need to know. And this is a fun environment to watch those players because they're competing for their school and for a championship. It's not just like they're playing a recreational round out here."
With admission to the Pac-12 Championship being free to the general public, Boulder Country Club officials said they wouldn't be surprised if crowds reached into the "thousands".
After an April 27 practice day -- which is also open to spectators -- the competitors will play 36 holes on April 28 and 18 holes each on April 29 and 30. Unlike most college tournaments, each school will feature six players, with the best five scores from those six each day counting toward the team total.
For CU, this will mark the first men's conference championship it has hosted since 1972, when the Big Eight meet came to Boulder CC.
"It means a lot being a Colorado kid and coming up and representing your state, representing your school and competing against some of the best teams and best players in the country," said CU's Spencer Painton, an Aurora resident who won a 5A state high school individual title while at Regis Jesuit. "I've had some nice success here in the past (he was runner-up in the 2016 CGA Amateur at BCC) and it feels like home to me. I'll have a lot of family and friends coming over. It's going to be a pretty special week for the entire Buffs team."
Certainly CU is treating it as a special week. The school is even bringing in two of the four CU players who have won individual conference championships to be honorary starters and hit the first tee shots on April 28 -- not unlike what the Masters does. Former BCC head professional Terry Kahl (the 1981 Big Eight champion) and Bob Kalinowski (the '93 and '94 winner of the Big Eight meet) will do the honors. (The other individual conference champions from CU are Hale Irwin (1966 and '67) and Keith Alexander (1954).
"It'll be a special, unique touch to the tournament that all the participants will enjoy," Edwards said.
Of course, the Buffs would like to make the weekend even more special by contending for a team title. CU hasn't won a conference championship, team-wise, since 1968 in the Big Eight. The Buffs are currently ranked 25th in the nation by Golfweek and 32nd by Golfstat, but they suffered a significant blow this week when their all-time scoring leader, Jeremy Paul, announced he is going pro immediately.
"Jeremy was obviously a great player -- one of the best in our history," Edwards said. "At the same time, everybody has the ability to play well. We fully expect to perform at a high level. ...
"We don't go to any tournament expecting to finish worse than first place. At the same time, it's not like 'Ricky Bobby' -- if you're not first you're last kind of thing. We're probably ranked around sixth in the league or so. We expect at home to play to a higher level than that. If we do our business we'll be competitive on Sunday for a high finish, if not winning the tournament."
Whatever the case, CU and Boulder Country Club hope a significant number of fans show up for the festivities. They've certainly made a point of making golfers around the state aware of the event.
"The CGA and the (Colorado) PGA have sent some stuff out about it, and we sent (informational) posters to every club within 50 miles of campus -- 97 facilities," Edwards said. "We've emailed every high school coach in the state. We've had a lot of print (ads). We've done a ton of stuff at our games -- football basketball, lacrosse -- and some radio stuff, online. It's gotten out there pretty well."
Men's Pac-12 Conference Championship: Just the Essentials
When: April 28-30 (April 27 practice rounds). Tee times begin at 7:30 a.m. on April 28, 10 a.m. on April 29, and 8 a.m. on April 30.
Where: Boulder Country Club (7350 Clubhouse Rd., Boulder).
Format: 72 holes of stroke play: 36 on April 28 and 18 each on April 29 and 30. For the team competition, each school counts the best five of its six individual scores each day.
Boulder Country Club Course: 7,129 yards, Par-70.
Coloradans Expected to Compete: Ethan Freeman and Spencer Painton from the University of Colorado, Wyndham Clark from Oregon, Kyler Dunkle from Utah and possibly one more CU player.
TV: Taped coverage airing May 7 at noon on Pac-12 Network.
Defending Champion: Stanford, which has won the last three years. The Cardinal claimed the title by 29 strokes in 2016. Jon Rahm of Arizona State won the 2016 individual title as a senior and has since turned professional and won on the PGA Tour.
Where Did CU Finish Last Year: Tied for sixth.
How Did Top Returning CU Player Fare in 2016?: Ethan Freeman (35th place).
CU's Top Finish Since Joining Pac-12: Fourth in 2014.
Top 25 Nationally Ranked Teams in Field: Southern California (No. 1 by Golfstat and Golfweek), Stanford (No. 5 by Golfstat and No. 8 by Golfweek), Oregon (No. 8 by Golfstat and No. 10 by Golfweek), Arizona State (No. 22 by Golfweek), CU (No. 25 by Golfweek).
Top 10 Nationally Ranked Individuals in Field: Senior Wyndham Clark, Oregon (No. 1 by Golfstat and Golfweek); junior Sean Crocker, USC (No. 2 Golfstat, No. 4 Golfweek); senior Maverick McNealy, Stanford (No. 3 Golfweek, No. 4 Golfstat); freshman Norman Xiong, Oregon (No. 7 Golfstat, No. 8 Golfweek); sophomore Collin Morikawa, Cal (No 8 Golfstat, No. 9 Golfweek).
Players in Field in Top 50 in World Amateur Golf Rankings: 1. senior Maverick McNealy, Stanford; 8. junior Sean Crocker, USC; 9. sophomore Collin Morikawa, Cal; 13. Jared duToit, Arizona State; 17. senior Rico Hoey, USC; 34. freshman Norman Xiong, Oregon; 48. senior Wyndham Clark, Oregon.
Honorary Starters: Prior to the first round on April 28, two former Big Eight champions from CU -- Terry Kahl (1981) and Bob Kalinowski (1993 and '94) -- will serve as honorary starters and hit the first tee shots, a la the Masters.