Myrtle Beach’s golf courses will be busier than normal between August 31 – September 4 as over 3,400 male and female amateur golfers from around the world converge to compete in the 32nd edition of the World Amateur Golf Championship. Widely regarded by competitors as the “Everyman’s U.S Open”, the World Am provides serious amateur golfers with as close to a PGA TOUR experience as they’ll ever get. It’s like playing in a club championship times 10. More than 60 golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area play host to any one of the 70 flights comprised of golfers with handicaps ranging from 0 to 36. Regardless of your experience or golf acumen, if you have a legitimate handicap, you’re welcome to compete for bragging rights to the Claret Jug of amateur golf. Sandbaggers need not come as the organizers of the tournament scrutinize everyone who registers ensuring “you are what you say you are”. So if your index is 10, you can be sure that you’ll be playing with others who have the same handicap. It’s for this reason that the World Am has been so successful. Rest assured, the man or women who emerges victorious after four days of intense competition earned the right to call him/herself the World Am Champion.
2015 marks the third time I’ve competed in the World Am. I arrived on Sunday via a direct WestJet flight from Toronto in just over two hours. When I arrived, the skies were clear but Hurricane Erika was making its way north along the coast from Florida. My first round would be at TPC Myrtle Beach, a challenging opener designed by Tom Fazio known for its tight fairways and tiered greens. It’s also the home of Dustin Johnston’s golf school, a Myrtle Beach resident, so I presumed the course had to be good. After picking up my World Am player gift bag (value $300) at one of the two local PGA TOUR Superstores, I decided to check out the course in the afternoon only to be turned back by the start of a storm that would saturate Myrtle Beach for the next 24 hours. By Sunday evening the rain was hard and steady but no word had been sent out by tournament organizers about the status of Monday morning’s 9am shotgun start.
Day 1 – Wash out at TPC Myrtle Beach and other participating World Am courses
The rain only intensified throughout Monday morning forcing the golf course to cancel our round. It wasn’t just where I was playing, the same decision was made at all but three golf courses to cancel play for the day. As a fellow competitor said later that night, “there is a 3000-way tie after Day 1 at the 2015 World Am!” Fortunately the forecast for Tuesday called for the end of the wet weather. The World Am was now a 54-hole event.
In addition to playing some of Myrtle Beach’s best golf courses, the World Am is as much about the evening festivities, otherwise known as the “19th hole”, where all competitors and their guests come to indulge in copious amounts of food and alcohol. For some, this is the reason they come back every year. It’s also about the friendships people make as there are many players that have competed in this event for more than 20 years. In the three years I’ve attended the World Am, I’ve met some really great people who share a common passion for the game. The 19th Hole takes place every night from 6-9pm at the Sheraton Hotel and Convention Centre, centrally located in Myrtle Beach. Monday night’s celebrity golf guest was Charlie Rymer, the Golf Channel’s affable host who shared plenty of PGA player stories with the attentive crowd.
Day 2 – Round 1 begins under sunny skies
What a difference a day makes. The remnants of Hurricane Erika were now history and the hot temperatures and sunny skies returned to the Grand Srand. Tuesday morning marked the start of the 2015 World Am as 3,400 golfers descended on 60 participating courses in time for their 9am shotgun start. My second venue was a lesser known course called Possum Trot, a 6,966-yard golf course located in north Myrtle Beach. Fortunately I didn’t have to play from the back tees, instead playing from the more modest white tees that measured 6,343 yards. Due to the heavy rain, we were allowed to play “lift,clean,and place” which everyone appreciated.
I really enjoyed the golf course and would certainly recommend it. The course is very playable with no “gimmicky” holes. The fairways are generous from the tee and the bermuda-grass greens were tricky but true and in excellent condition. I especially liked the par 5’s as every one was reachable in two provided you hit a stellar tee and approach shot. Green fees vary throughout the day but at this time of year you can play for as little as $35 which includes your cart fee. Great value for a really good golf experience. For more information about Possum Trot, check out their website at www.possumtrot.com.
After an unimpressive first day – I’ll need to play better Wednesday – I returned back to the Convention Centre for the second instalment of the 19th hole. Tonight featured John Daly, former PGA and British Open Champion, who was more than willing to share several of his life and tour experiences and stories with the crowd. He remains a fan favourite as many can relate to the trials and tribulations he has endured. One of his most humourous comments had to do with “knowing a little something about being married”. He also talked about winning the 1995 Open Championship at St. Andrews and having to pay 7,000 pounds (approx. $15,000 U.S) from his $125,000 first-place prize money for a dupilcate of the Claret Jug. To this day, the Open Champion gets to keep the real Claret Jug for a year, but if you want your own, you have to pay for it. I wonder what Zach Johnson will decide to do.
Two great days from the 2015 World Am. More tomorrow night.
Day 3 – Round 2 of the World Am at Carolina National
My second round of the World Am took place at the 27-hole, Fred Couples-designed Carolina National Golf Club in Bolivia, North Carolina (www.carolinanationalgolf.com)
Getting to Carolina National was certainly a hike but well worth the drive. After playing my competitive round, I decided to play another 18 holes, something I only do when I really like the golf course. This is a World Am player favourite as everyone I talked to after our round had nothing but good things to say about Carolina National. A tougher track than Possum Trot (Round 1) but equally fair and enjoyable. The fairways are wide and the landing areas generous, a course characteristic I appreciate. The bermuda-grass greens continued to fool me but were impeccable. Overall, Carolina National was in fabulous condition and another golf course I’d highly recommend. The green fee rate at this time of year is (USD) $55, including cart and taxes.
Play got underway again at 9am under sunny skies. Today, I played with a 59-year old accountant from Kentucky and 20-year World Am vet who had lots of great stories about the history of the event and the people he has met along the way. He also gave me some really good advice about playing competitive golf. “Grant”, he said, ” there are two things you have to remember when playing in the World Am. The first is to “arrive and survive” meaning you never give up, and the other is to avoid a big number. Do these two things and you’ll do well.” These were welcomed words of wisdom from a seasoned competitor who could really play.
As I’ve said before, competitive golf is hard. There’s no comparison to the casual weekend round you play with your buddies. Four rounds of it can be fun or a grind. For most amateurs we get a taste of both over the span of 18 holes. A few ups (birdies), a few downs (bogeys or worse) and hopefully plenty of pars in between. Competing in the World Am makes me appreciate what the guys we watch on television every week do that much more. What Jordan Speith and Jason Day have done over the past three months is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s their focus and mental toughness under pressure that impresses me most. Where they get it from confounds me.
After playing 36 holes, I returned to World Am Central – the Sheraton Hotel and Convention Centre in central Myrtle Beach – in time for the 19th Hole evening fun and festivities. As usual, there was plenty of F&B for all including my favourite – generous servings of ice cream from Friendly’s restaurant. Tonight’s marquee performance featured John Daly and a live on-stage performance of “Knockin’ on Heavens Door” with country-rock singer/songwriter Stephen Kellogg. Outstanding! Golf Channel anchor Win McMurry was also in attendance who graciously signed and posed for every autograph and photo request. Win was certainly a fan favourite among all the 40+ year-old World Am participants. Beauty and brains. Great combination. Thanks for the photo Win!
That’s all for Day 3 at the World Am. Final round is tomorrow setting the stage for Friday’s final round for all the flight winners at the Dye Club at Barefoot Resort.
Final Day Report
Today is the day 85 of the best golfers from 73 flights (winners and ties) will battle for the 2015 World Am Championship at the Dye Club at Barefoot Resort. These are the best golfers of the week who separated themselves from the rest of us (3,400 golfers) who played to their handicap, or better, everyday. As any amateur golfers knows, this is not an easy thing to do. If you’re a single digit handicap, when was the last time you broke 80 three days in a row? That’s what the winner of my flight did. Congratulations to him and all the other flight winners who earned the right to play today. In addition, every flight winner receives a $600 TaylorMade Gift Card and trophy. Actually, there are TaylorMade gift cards and trophies for the top 5 finishers in each flight – a nice touch from the organizers of the World Am.
I had a chance to talk to a flight winner last night at the final 19th Hole party who was all smiles after being told he emerged victorious. For a 62-year old business owner from Augusta, Georgia, this was his “Masters” moment in his golf career. “I didn’t expect to win my flight but I played well all three days, something you have to do here,” he said modestly. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s final round. The Dye Course at Barefoot is one of the toughest courses in Myrtle Beach so whoever wins will have to play really well. Hopefully I’ll be that person.”
Yesterday I played my final round at the Arrowhead Country Club (www.arrowheadcc.com), a 27-hole, Raymond Floyd Signature Course, designed in collaboration with architect Tom Jackson. This was not my first Arrowhead outing as it was my opening round in last year’s tournament. Given the flight I was in a year ago, I had to play from the back tees on a very wet golf course. 6,700 yards felt like 7,700 yards. Every hole appeared narrow off the tee and I seemed to find all of the hidden water hazards that unexpectedly jut out into the fairways. For this reason, I wasn’t overly excited about playing my final round at Arrowhead this year. Fortunately my flight was able to play from the much more manageable white tees (6,300 yards) resulting in an enjoyable Arrowhead experience. I welcomed the shorter yardage as the course didn’t seem as tight from tee to green. I think that explains why I had my lowest score of the week, leaving me firmly entrenched in the middle of the pack among my fellow competitors at the conclusion of tournament.
Like my two previous experiences, I had a great time playing and competing in the 2015 World Am Championship. Hats off and congratulations to Tournament Director Jeff Monday and his team from Myrtle Beach Holiday who do such an incredible job organizing the event every year for the 3,000 of us who would love to say they are this year’s World Am winner. I’ll be back again next year. I’ve already marked August 29 – September 2, 2016 in my calendar. As, I’ve said before, if you want to put your game to the ultimate test and meet fellow golfers who love the game as much as you do, be sure to sign up for the World Amatuer Golf Championship in 2016.
For more information about the World Am and the other golf tournaments Myrtle Beach Holiday runs, including the upcoming Myrtle Beach Fall Classic November 15-19, check out www.myrtlebeachgolfevents.com or call 1-800-833-8798.