New bloodhounds chasing Harrell after first round of City tournament at rainy Otis

BEDFORD – Even after a two-hour thunderstorm delay, new bloodhounds picked up the scent of a familiar frontrunner during the first round of the Bedford Men’s City Golf Tournament. The chase is on.

After a late decision to enter the historic event, playing only his fifth round all season, former winner Aaron Harrell relied on muscle memory and championship experience to take the early lead at Otis Park. But he can hear the howls, close and hungry, behind him.

Harrell fired a smooth 3-under 69 on Saturday, vaulting to the top of the leaderboard. That’s no surprise. No matter how much or how little he’s played, he’s a four-time champion, and there’s very few members of that fraternity. It’s the new names just below him that raised a few eyebrows, setting the stage for an interesting second round and second weekend to come.

With six birdies, including four on the temperamental back nine, Harrell charged to a one-shot lead over newcomer Korey Smith, while Nik Bailey posted a career-best 71, adding spice to a leaderboard – that also includes Zach Terrell with a 71 – with much more flavor.

Korey who? Exactly. More on his introduction in a moment.

First there’s Harrell, looking to become only the fifth man to win five City crowns. He’s certainly a worthy contender, after setting amazing scoring records while winning three in a row (2018-20). His putter was both a great friend and a betrayer (two of his bogeys were 3-putts), but his best ally was a wedge that he holed from 50 yards for a birdie on the 15th hole.

“It was a good day,” Harrell said. “It was good to get back out there and actually play. I’m very pleased with how it went. I wish I could have putted better, but I’ll take it. That’s the way golf goes.”

Part-time players would pay a lot of money for these results. Harrell birdied the fifth and sixth holes on the front, made the turn in 1-under 36, then exploded with birdies on holes 11, 13, 15 (with the perfect recovery pitch to the pin on the front right after a punch out of tree trouble) and 18. His back-side bogeys came on 14 (three putts) and 16 (approach in the bunker).

Now let’s get to know Mr. Smith.

Korey Smith

His background? Originally from Tennessee, he played college golf at Austin Peay, a teammate of Anthony Bradley (the head professional at the French Lick Resorts). Life circumstances brought him to Orleans, and he’s played Otis fewer than 10 times thus far. So what does the left-hander do for his City debut, after sitting for two hours to wait out the rain? Four-under on the first nine holes. That got everyone’s attention.

“I had it going, made some putts and was hitting it solid,” Smith said. “Then I missed the green on 10 and kind of got cold. That left a little salty taste in my mouth.

“I’m just trying to make as many birdies as I can. I feel like if I can take advantage of where I’m putting it off the tee, my score could have been a lot lower. There’s good competition out there and it will take some good scores. It’s a fun course.”

Bailey’s round was punctuated by a 100-yard wedge shot for eagle on the 11th. After a sluggish start (3-over after only two holes), he chipped in for par on the third and took off from there, with birdies on 4, 9 and 13. After his late start in the sport (Bedford North Lawrence basketball was his first calling), he’s now in position to reach his low-level goal of making the Championship Flight. Perhaps he will adjust his aim.

“The ultimate goal is the top five,” Bailey said. “There are still three days and golf is a weird sport. Anything can happen.”

Terrell is also in a contending position, joined by the foursome who shot 73s (Jansen Perdue, Ken Steward, Andrew Lafferty and Koby Robb). Two-time defending champ Trey Turner opened with a scuffling 77, but he can’t be counted out because he fired a 76 in last year’s opening round. Then played the next three rounds under par and pulled away.

Harrell hopes to join Don Gratzer, Ken Hackney, Gordon Jeffries and Michael Gratzer as a five-time winner. That’s still 54 holes away.

“It was fun to get out there,” Harrell said. “I have no expectations. I just want to go have fun and enjoy the two weekends. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.”

Second round action will begin at 8 a.m., with the same pairings and tee times as Round 1. The final two rounds are set for July 15-16.