I’ve been afforded a number of amazing opportunities through golf, especially since founding AmateurGolf.com 15 years ago. The latest -- over the 4th of July weekend no less -- was a chance to play for USA on a team of 12 players representing the World Amateur Handicap Championship against a group of 12 Chinese players at the Nanshan Golf Resort in China. We competed hard, but also enjoyed a great deal of local hospitality, camaraderie and fun. It’s hard not to smile when you’re wearing your team uniform, holding the American flag and having your picture taken by dozens of media and tournament players. So what if they didn’t speak much English – none of us knew a word of Mandarin Chinese either!
Before I go any further, here is a little background on the competition.
The World Amateur in Myrtle Beach hosts close to 4000 competitive golfers every August, making it the biggest tournament in the world in terms of number of simultaneous players. It’s an amazing production staged at about 50 Myrtle Beach courses, and 2014 marks the first year that a dedicated gross division will be included.
The concept has been copied (without permission) in the U.S., but never duplicated. In China, however, a competitive sports organization called Olle Sports did it right. They formally licensed the name, logo, and concept and they hold qualifiers at more than 15 locations for their own “World Amateur China Finals” where top finishers win an all expenses paid trip to the U.S. to compete in the World Amateur..
Traveling to Asia with golf clubs in tow was pretty surreal – kind of like living the dream of playing on some exotic professional tour. (Sure, we all got hit in the face with a cold glass of water in the form of some pretty serious jet lag – but that goes with the territory.) At 52 years old, I was the senior member of a group which consisted of top gross finishers in the World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach and several captain's picks (thanks Captain Jeff Monday) which I was pleased to be one of as a tournament partner.
Was it fun? Absolutely. The first day started out with a bang, as one of our guys, golf industry veteran Danny Le of UST Mamiya Golf Shaft, scored an ace on a 215 yard par-3 during our first practice round. One of the female caddies was more excited than he was, circling the green yelling “hole in one! – hole in one!” Her excitement was worth the price of admission, as adjacent groups all knew about it before we hit the 19th hole. No internet or live scoring required.
The great thing about golf, as I learned in China, is that it’s really not that difficult to communicate on the course even with players and caddies that speak little English. Every time a putt over 10 feet was holed (for any score) the caddies yelled “birdie” but we all loved it. And we didn’t even mind when they simultaneously said “oh my god” after a wayward golf ball headed for its new permanent home in China. (By the end of the week, getting an “Oh my God” became a badge of honor of sorts.) If the caddies are having fun, we’re having fun, and that’s what golf should be all about.
I suppose you’re wondering by now if we won. Let’s just say a 12 on 12 “count everything” format is difficult, and we lost by 28. In the grand scheme of things, it was pretty close. At the “Grand Gala” final tournament dinner, you would think that everyone had won.
I’ve got a new appreciation for players who hop tours from one week to the next halfway across the world. But I understand why they do it.
As an amateur, it doesn't get much better than representing your country like I did in July. So take a shot at the scratch division of the World Amateur, finish in the top 12, and you might get the chance to do the same.
ABOUT THE WORLD AMATEUR HANDICAP CHAMPIONSHIP
The World Amateur Championship is the largest simultaneously-held golf tournament in the world, with 3405 players competing at dozens of Myrtle Beach courses in 2014. No qualifying is required to enter the tournament proper. A scratch division was added this year, with an inaugural field of 50 players. This division, and the Sino-USA World Amateur Cup are further evidence that the World Amateur is more than just a "handicap championship."