More than 3,000 players tee it up at the World Amateur
A typical bucket list item is a one-time experience. Live it, cross it off, move on. That’s how the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship begins.
By definition, the annual summer event would fit nicely onto a bucket list, except that to play the World Amateur once is to want to come back over and over. There’s a lot of reasons this event, the largest single-site golf tournament in the world, has pull. It draws a field of 3,000 golfers each year.
For Paul Ciancanelli, it’s very simple.
“It’s something I always thought I could win,” said the DeMotte Ind., native. Ciancanelli saw an ad for the inaugural tournament in an issue of Golf Digest in 1984, packed his pop-up trailer and brought along his 12-year-old son. The plan was to camp on the beach that year in between the four-round golf tournament, but high winds got in the way of the camping.
Still, Ciancanelli met so many good people from around the country that he’s been back every year since – only without the trailer.
Ciancanelli doesn’t care if people laugh when he says that the hope of winning is one of the reasons he keeps coming back (he has finished as high as runner-up in his flight, but still hasn’t won). In fact, it’s one of the more brilliant parts of the World Amateur model. There are nine divisions within the tournament, with players flighted by gender, age and handicap.
As PGA Tour radio personality Brian Katrek says, “you’re playing against guys your own size.”
Katrek is a man who lives and breathes golf for a living and a hobby and plays in the scratch division. Asked for his best description of the World Amateur for someone who has never experienced it, Katrek offered this: “It’s extraordinarily golfey.”
As Katrek points out, amateurs don’t get the opportunity to play in many 72-hole events. It allows for recovery from a bad hole or even a bad round, and it allows for a lighter attitude in general.
“Some of that is because it’s four rounds and some of that is because we’re not any good,” he joked.
Like the rest of the field, Katrek feels like a kid on Christmas when he gets the email a few weeks before the event that lays out his course rotation. Once the competition starts, he’s always looking for a good golf story. In addition to playing the event, Katrek partners with John Maginnes each afternoon to broadcast Katrek & Maginnes on Tap from the 19th hole.
The 19th hole is a wonder in itself. It’s a post-round golf party that’s a little bit like a golf merchandise show, a little bit like a night on the town and a little bit like an afternoon in your neighborhood clubhouse. There are thousands of golfers under one roof telling war stories from a day on the course.
The World Amateur numbers alone are absurd, but so is the quality of golf. The event, which will take place Aug. 26-30 in 2019, requires as much preparation as you would imagine. Tournament director Scott Tomasello starts tracking down merchandise for gift bags – 7,000 pieces of it – in January at the PGA Merchandise Show. Booking courses for tournament week starts soon after.
Tomasello also organizes the Dustin Johnson World Junior Championship at TPC Myrtle Beach, among other area tournaments. The day that event ends, World Amateur planning begins in earnest. On the Monday morning after the junior event, Tomasello pulls up a detailed spreadsheet in his downtown Myrtle Beach office and begins explaining a complicated course-assignment model.
Each division has a unique four-course rotation that changes yearly. This, too, is a major reason for the event’s longevity. The best players don’t automatically play the best courses. Myrtle Beach gems like Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, True Blue Golf Plantation, TPC Myrtle Beach and Barefoot Resort.
“It’s the only place on planet Earth where we can do something like this,” Tomasello said.
The event has always been designed to drive tourism to the Myrtle Beach community while also serving as a vehicle to grow the game. The economic impact of last year’s event was estimated at $14,300,000. Golf Tourism Solutions, the host organization for the event, is the golf business’s marketing agency of record for the city of Myrtle Beach. Dollars that come in through the tournament are reinvested in the golf community.
“We specifically do this to get people to come to Myrtle Beach,” Tomasello said.
Each year, 80 percent of the World Amateur is made up of returning participants. But here’s the more impressive stat: World Amateur participants come back to Myrtle Beach 3-5 times each year.
There are 60 courses in the rotation for the World Amateur across a 75-mile swatch of the greater Myrtle Beach area. Shaken out another way, the World Amateur amounts to 136 100-player tournaments. Head professionals at the golf courses play a huge role during tournament week.
“We don’t have a golf tournament without them,” Tomasello said.
In short, the World Amateur is as much a bucket-list item as it isn’t. As Tomasello reasons, just because it seems like a once-in-a-lifetime experience doesn’t mean you can’t do it over and over again. Entries for the event open March 13.
“All of these people are getting an experience. We’re giving them an experience – something not materialistic – that they can share with somebody forever.”
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AUSSIE AMATEUR WINS BIG
: Kazuma Kobori, a 17-year amateur, won the SEC New Zealand PGA Championship on Sunday. Playing on his home course, Pegasus Golf and Sports Club, Kobori took the lead into the final round then won by four shots. Rounds of 67-65-66-69 left him with a 21-under 267 total. He made only two bogeys all week.
Kobori pre-qualified for the event on the Monday of tournament week. He didn’t even really think about winning – or the fact that he was
-- until glancing at the leaderboard late Sunday.
“I saw the leaderboard on 14,” he told Golf Australia. “I didn’t know it was there I just accidentally looked at it, saw that I had a four shot lead at that point and I thought that was pretty sweet.
“I just kept playing my own game and then it was all good."
Kobori isn’t the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour of Australasia. Zach Murray, who has since turned pro, won the Western Australia Open last year. Curtis Luck, the 2016 U.S. Amateur champion, won the same event in 2016. Oliver Goss had accomplished the feat in 2012.
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ANOTHER SHOT AT A PROFESSIONAL START:
More and more PGA Tour starts are cropping up for winners of major college tournaments. Last week’s Southern Highlands Collegiate winner, UNLV’s Jack Trent, earned a start in the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children Open later this year. Now, Golf Channel reports
that the individual winner of the Big 12 Championship will play the Greenbrier.
The Big 12 Championship will be played at Greenbrier venue the Old White TPC in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
On the subject of pro starts, the winner of next week’s Valspar Collegiate will play the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship later this month.
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THE WEEK AHEAD
Florida Azalea Amateur, Palatka (Fla.) Golf Club, March 15-17
A long-running spring tune-up for amateurs at a short Donald Ross design that tests every part of your game. Past champions include Peter Uihlein (who went on to win the 2010 U.S. Amateur), Andreas Halvorsen and Corey Carlson.
Valspar Collegiate Invitational, The Floridian, Palm City, Fla., March 17-19
Ears perk up when there is a PGA Tour exemption on the line for the individual winner, as there is here. Oklahoma State won this event last year and will be back seeking a title defense and a fifth season title. Considering that a Cowboy has won the individual title in each of seven starts, there’s a pretty good chance that a Cowboy will be teeing it up in the Valspar Championship.
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TWEET OF THE WEEK
: Caught on video (that’s not a green screen)