Three Years In, the Orlando Intl Amateur Finds its Groove
The 3rd Orlando International Amateur will be held at the Walt Disney World Complex<br>(Disney photo)
The 3rd Orlando International Amateur will be held at the Walt Disney World Complex
(Disney photo)

KISSIMMEE, FL (December 27, 2017) - For a start-up amateur golf tournament with relatively little history, the Orlando International Amateur has roots that run deep in international golf. It is organized by two men who started as opponents, only to cross an ocean and become not just teammates but brothers in law.

It is stories such as these that drive home the realization that the golf community is small, and truly global.

The friendship between Maxence De Craecker, of Belgium, and Tiago Rodrigues, of Portugal, goes back nearly a decade. They were young men playing the amateur tournament circuit in Europe for their respective national teams when Belgium and Portugal were pitted against each other at the 2010 European Amateur Team Championship. For the record, Tiago won the match that July day at Osterakers Golf Club in Sweden.

“We didn’t keep in touch, but the golf community is small,” De Craecker said. “When you compete at a good level, you know the other players.”

De Craecker went on to play golf for Rollins College in Orlando. He was dating a woman, Sofia, who would later become his wife. Rodrigues would arrive a few years later and also land a spot on the golf team. It was on the Rollins campus that he met Sofia’s sister Vivian, to whom he is now engaged to be married.

“There is that relationship,” De Craecker said of their family ties, “but there is also a common passion (for golf) which is fun for us to do together.”

The seed for the Orlando International Amateur was planted simply by a desire to create an event that was a mainstay on the amateur golf calendar. It grew from a conversation about a lack of international events in a golf hub like Orlando. Knowing that several other high-level amateur events were contested in Florida during the winter months, De Craecker and Rodrigues thought they could create a desirable stop on that circuit.

“There is no golf capital, but Orlando is kind of the unofficial golf capital in the world with the PGA Show, the PGA Tour events, all the PGA Tour players living here,” De Craecker said. “That’s why we thought there was a place for this here.”

When the event debuted in 2015, it was at Orange County National. It returned there in 2016. De Craecker and Rodrigues will host the tournament at Disney’s Magnolia and Palm courses for the first time this year.

Rodrigues never left the golf industry. He still plays professionally in Portugal and throughout Europe. De Craecker remains in Orlando, organizing conferences for renewable energy. They are still golfers to the core, and because of this, there is a distinct mark on this tournament.

“We have been on the other side,” Rodrigues said. “We have been players and we have experienced playing many of these events, even all over the world. I think we know what the players want.”

That’s reflected in everything from course setup to player gifts. Three years in, De Craecker and Rodrigues are beginning to see the best sign of that: player retention. They are working to draw in the strongest field possible with help from men who played a significant role in their own golf journeys: Kyle Frakes, Rollins men’s golf coach; Christian Moyson, former head of the Belgian National Golf Team; and Miguel De Sousa, President of the Portuguese Golf Federation. These three make up the tournament’s non-executive committee, and help spread word of the event in their respective circles. They continue to provide guidance, as well.

This week, 114 players from 24 countries will compete in the men’s portion of the tournament. The women’s field checks in at 56 players, which is up considerably from the 12 who competed in the inaugural event in 2015. New this year, too, is a separate junior event, to be played Jan. 3-5. De Craecker and Rodrigues have accepted about 50 players, male and female, for that event.

“The next thing would be to have one of the strongest fields that is assembled every year,” De Craecker said. “It’s really to create a tournament that attracts some of the best players in the world. Just to improve the strength of our field, that’s our goal.”

ABOUT THE Orlando International Amateur

The Orlando International Amateur Championship is an annual golf tournament gathering high-level amateur golfers from the United States of America and abroad. 54-hole stroke play championship, playing 18 holes per day.

Open to low-handicap amateurs, players who play college golf, players who have qualified for any of the current year's USGA or R&A championships, and those who have the recommendation of their country’s Federation or Association.

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