For golfers around the state, there’s no place they’d rather spend the Fourth of July weekend than at the Brunswick Country Club.

Competitors from all over Georgia teed off in the 69th annual Golden Isles Invitational on Thursday, and when the field of 172 finished up the first 18 holes of the 54-hole tournament, it was a first-time player that sat atop the leaderboard.

David Sikes’ great aunt and uncle live in the area, so the Atlanta resident took the opportunity to finally play in the prestigious amateur tournament. He made the most of it by shooting 9-under in his first round.

“I’ve heard so many good things about this tournament over the years, and to finally play in it, I was excited to come down here, so to put up a good number was awesome,” Sikes said.

Playing in a foursome that also featured last year’s champion Tye Waller, Sike fired off the best round he’s ever had in a tournament to position himself a stroke ahead of Coastal Georgia’s Eli Scott for the Day 1 lead.

He credited the camaraderie of his group for his strong round.

“I got off to a hot start, I birded the first three,” Sikes said. “Then we had a really good chemistry in our group, and we were all playing pretty well, so I was able to just keep it going from there.

“I made an eagle on 12, and two more coming in to get it to 9-under, but it was really more about being in a great group with a lot of good guys to help me play well.”

Waller also benefited from the companionship of the pairing to help him through a frustrating round that could have gone off the rails.

Inconsistency with his driver and a missed putt on 18 left Waller at 5-under for the day. If he’s to become the first repeat champion at the Golden Isles Invitational since 2011 and 2016 winner Dru Love, he’ll have to best his playing mate over the next two days.

“My teammate whooped up on me, so I’ve got to make sure I beat Sikes,” Waller said with a smile.

In the senior division, Dan McManus leads the field after shooting a 4-under, though he’s hardly pulled away from the pack.

Along with Mike Funk and Toshi Hirata, Steve Melnyk is one stroke off the senior lead at 3-under as he looks to add to a resume that includes two senior championships in addition to three titles in the overall tournament.

But hoisting the trophy on Saturday is far from the only reason to compete this week.

Thacher Neal lives in Helen, but a former Camden County resident, he made a trip back to the Golden Isles to soak up the sun for a few days while playing in the tournament for a second time.

“Just spending time out here, on the beach, it’s like a vacation pretty much,” Neal said.

Chase Weathers made his fifth appearance in the Golden Isles Invitational on Thursday, despite having moved from his home on St. Mary’s to attend college.

“It’s just such a big tournament,” he said. “It’s got a good field, the best amateurs in the southeast. It’s just a lot of fun.”

Weathers first played in the tournament as a high school freshman. Now a rising sophomore on the golf team at Valdosta State, he looks forward to testing his skills against the competitive field once more.

“When I first played in this tournament, it didn’t go too well,” Weathers said. “Today I shot 1-over and I wasn’t happy with how I played.

“So my game’s come a long way since then.”

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