WATCH: The Spirit International highlight show on Golf Channel
06 Dec 2021
by Sean Melia of AmateurGolf.com

see also: The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship, Whispering Pines Golf Club

The Golf Channel will air a highlight show of The Spirit International on December 9, from 7-9:00 p.m., and again on December 11 from 4-6 p.m (both times are Eastern Standard Time). The Spirit, which was played at Whispering Pines outside of Houston in early November, has been coined the “Olympics of Amateur Golf,” as national teams of two men and two women compete for gold, silver, and bronze medals on five concurrent events. The talent in the event was outstanding, the course is superb, and there was a bit of drama: a hole-in-one to nab a medal by the Canadians and Sam Bennett's two-shot penalty for having a teammate’s club in a bag added to the excitement.

What makes The Spirit special is the energy and enthusiasm at the event. Amateur golfers compete for their country while offering inspiration to anyone involved.

During the week, there were some moments that stuck out and demonstrated the power of The Spirit.

Inspiring Young Children

First, was a touching moment following the second round of the event. Stacey Lewis’ young daughter Chesnee, was star-struck, not by her 2-time major-winning mother, but by Rose Zhang and Rachel Heck. The top two amateur women in the world.

The two golfers sat with the blond-haired toddler on the back of the 18th green as they watched their USA teammates, James Piot and Sam Bennett, finish their round. They coached Chesnee to sit silently as Bennett lined up his birdie putt, when Bennett’s fifth birdie on the back nine tumbled into the cup they told her it was time to cheer.

As team USA moved down to the clubhouse for post-round interviews, Chesnee Lewis was glued to the Heck and Zhang; Heck even brought Chesnee with her into her post-round interview.

“I want to play golf,” Chesnee said to Heck.

“That would be so fun,” Heck replied.

A young child inspired by college golfers.

Summer Camp Vibes

The Spirit is a golf event wrapped in summer camp. The competitors stay in cabins, bunking up with players from other countries. Dinner is held outside, buffet-style; as dinner winds down, Corby Robertson, the founder of Camp Olympia, Whispering Pines, and The Spirit International steps onto a stage and leads the campers in a rousing rendition of the Camp Olympia song and announces the camper of the day.

After dinner, the camp counselors lead the golfers in various camp games: table tennis, basketball, scooter races, and a balloon pop relay. As golfers wait in line, they chat and joke around with each other. Usually, the knee-jerk reaction to waiting in line is to pull out a smartphone and scroll through Instagram or check up on TikTok.

Not at Camp Olympia.

If a phone does appear, it was to snap a quick picture to mark the moment, and then the phone would disappear.

The tight living quarters in a remote part of Texas lends itself to building camaraderie, not only among teammates, but also between other teams.

As James Piot accepted his silver medal alongside Sam Bennett, the Scottish team yelled out, “Way to go, Jimbo.” It was a name that was born in the cabins, according to Piot. “I’ve never been called Jimbo before,” he told me.

South African Captain Sarah Braude’s Journey to Texas

Whispering Pines isn’t an easy place to travel to. It’s 90 miles from Houston’s Bush International Airport. For Sarah Braude, the South African captain and Women’s Golf South Africa President, those 90 miles were the easiest part of her trip. She wasn’t even supposed to be at The Spirit. Instead, Christo Lamprecht, a sophomore at Georgia Tech would act as a player/captain. It was printed in the program and posted on the website. Braude was not meant to make it all the way from Capetown, South Africa to Whispering Pines.

However, as The Spirit approached, Braude kept trying to work any angle she could to travel to support her young compatriots.

“I had to appeal to people’s human side,” she told me at dinner after the first round. Three weeks before The Spirit, it looked very unlikely that Sarah would be able to travel due to strict travel restrictions in both the United States and South Africa.

“We had some of the strictest lockdown rules in the world,” she said as the campers buzzed around us playing games. “People couldn’t exercise. And then when they finally could, it had to be from six-to-nine in the morning.”

When the travel restrictions loosened up in the middle of October, Braude had a glimmer of hope that she’d be able to captain the South African side.

“Corby (Robertson) told me to try and get an NIE (National Interest Exemption), which would let me get here,” Sarah said.

A National Interest Exemption allows people to travel from certain countries to the USA. The US visa service website states, “Individuals who need to travel to the United States before the U.S. entry ban is lifted will be allowed to enter the U.S. in urgent and important exceptional cases.” However, like most governmental processes, the NIE takes time. Something Braude didn’t have as The Spirit was just a few weeks from starting.

In late October, Braude landed an appointment with the embassy, but it wasn’t until May 22, 2022. A little too late for what Braude needed.

“I reached out and told the consulate that I needed the appointment far earlier. They replied saying they could see me November 7,” she said with a shrug. “So I emailed a friend who had a few connections. We knew each other through golf.”

That angle worked. Braude landed an interview in late October and was approved to travel to Texas for The Spirit.

As we spoke at dinner, she was on her phone trying to schedule a COVID test for her trip home. She had planned ahead and booked a time, but the tee times had changed last minute and now her test conflicted with her team’s tee times. If she could help it, she wanted to be there for the opening shots of the second round.

The lengths Braude went to captain her talented South African team were similar to ones taken for family events. She understood the importance of the event and knew the opportunity likely wouldn’t come her way again.

Braude understands the value of The Spirit and the importance of representing her country and guiding young golfers on their journey.

The positive energy that pulses through The Spirit knows no age. The vibrancy of the summer camp mentality threads its way through all the participants, whether they are young spectators - like Chesnee -, parents, college players, or captains. The Spirit finds its way into the hearts of anyone affiliated.

Be sure to turn in or set your DVR on The Golf Channel from 7-9 pm. An encore presentation will run on December 11 from 4-6 pm.

ABOUT THE The Spirit International Amateur

The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship is world class golf event played every other year. It features the world’s best amateur men and amateur women golfers as they represent their respective country in team and individual competitions. The 96 participants enjoy an Olympic-like experience from the Opening/Closing Ceremonies, international village and competing for gold medals.

The World Health & Golf Association and Texas Golf Association invite 24 countries from six continents to participate. Established in 2001, The Spirit is a biennial event that alternates tournament years with the World Amateur Team Championships.

Part of the uniqueness of the Spirit International are the five simultaneous competitions: Combined International Championship, Men’s Team Championship, Women’s Team Championship, Men’s Individual and Women’s Individual.

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