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Last Saturday, Crow Creek was busy with serious-looking men of various ages heading for the practice tee and the putting green, clubs in hand. Greetings were called out, handshakes were given, but everyone had his game face on.
The Amateur Tour had come to Brunswick County.
I roamed around and chatted with the guys while I was waiting to speak with John Livoti, the tour director.
P.J. Johnson had driven up from Myrtle Beach, Andy Stehberger was from Wilmington and Don Sheads came all the way from Murrell’s Inlet. Mike Mauney, last year’s club champion from The Lakes, was in the crowd.
I learned these men love serious golf, and that’s why they’re here. They enjoy playing USGA rules, where you play the ball down, even when it rolls into a divot.
As soon as the last foursome drove out to the tee (they were double-teed that morning), I was able to sit down to talk with Livoti.
“I love the game of golf and for a while I played in some other tours. A few years ago, I had the chance to take over this tour, and I jumped on it,” he said.
Livoti owns an advertising agency in Columbia, S.C., but each Saturday he is in another part of North or South Carolina running an Amateur Tour event. He currently handles the Myrtle Beach/Wilmington section, plus the Midlands/Columbia section. The two tours play from March until the championship in October at Hilton Head.
John’s two tours are only part of the Amateur Golf Tour (AGT). Other tour locations in the Carolinas include Charlotte, Pinehurst, Raleigh, Ashville and Charleston. AGT events are also held as far away as Orlando, Fla.; Richmond, Va.; Columbus, Ohio; Lexington, Ky.; and Detroit.
Here’s how it works: A $70 membership fee puts you into the Amateur Golf Tour and makes you eligible to play in events around the state and the country. Each tournament has an entry fee. The fees in our area range from a high of $90 for Tidewater and Grande Dunes to a low of $65 for Crown Park.
Local courses that host the Amateur Tour include Brunswick Plantation, Lockwood Folly, Crow Creek, St. James, Rivers Edge and Sandpiper Bay.
“Because we have tournaments in many different states,” Livoti said, “our members can go away on vacation and play in an Amateur Tour event somewhere else. They like that. They collect points all year wherever they play, and those points count toward the end-of-the-year prizes. Basically, we play just like the pros. They play for money; we play for points.”
There is a senior division and a championship division in each tournament. Within those divisions, players are placed into five flights according to handicap. Competition is stroke play within each flight without handicap.
Points are awarded to all golfers who participate in AGT tournaments. Players who finish in the top five get bonus points. Flight winners get 50 points plus a point for the number of people within that flight. For example, if you win a flight with 10 men in it, you will get 60 points. If there are ties, the points are split just as how the pros split their earnings when there is a tie.
At each tournament, ATG players get door prizes, a hot dog and a drink. If they win their division, they get a glass beer mug.
At the end of the year, local and regional finals are held for the top-30 players in overall points. The finals for the Amateur Golf Tour take place each year in Hilton Head.
Each year the AGT schedules a Match Play Championship that is played in flights with nine-hole matches over two days of competition. This year, that event will take place at Carolina National (three matches over 27 holes) on June 28. The next day, the finals and semifinals will move to Farmstead Golf Course.
At the conclusion, all the flight winners play in a shootout starting on the first hole. Everyone plays the same hole and the guys with the highest score are eliminated. On to the next hole and the next until there is only one champion.
“The guys love the match play event each year,” Livoti said. “We used to run it around July 4th, but because so many people had other commitments, we moved it. We’re expecting a big field this year. Everyone gets excited when we get to the shootout phase. We use handicaps then, so almost anyone can win it. It’s not just the scratch players who are in the hunt.”
Each tournament also offers a closest-to-the-pins and a skins competition for an extra fee. The closest-to-the-pin competition is in the champions and the seniors divisions, plus a skins game for everyone.
“We average about 50 or more guys per tournament,” Livoti said. “Some of the golfers who come to play in the World Amateur in Myrtle Beach hone their skills in our events.
“We’re successful because we keep the cost down. There are other tours like the one run by The Golf Channel in Myrtle Beach, but their entry fees are much higher. We collect money and give it back to the players in the form of gift certificates, because amateur golfers cannot win money prizes.”
Martin’s PGA Tour Superstore in Myrtle Beach is a major sponsor of the Myrtle Beach/Wilmington Amateur Tour. Other areas have other sponsors.
Because of its easy access and low fees, the Amateur Tour has fostered several junior golfers. Several of them played against golfers who are sometimes old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers.
“Cippriano Ayala was 16 years old when he joined the tour,” Livoti said. “Carolina Golf Association junior events were scattered around the state, and some of them were quite expensive with the travel involved. Cippriano started playing with us. The guys took him under their wing and helped him in many ways. He won our championship and got a golf scholarship to Winthrop University. Other young players are moving out to compete on professional tours. They’re getting sponsors and doing well.”
For more information, visit www.Amateurgolftour.net.
GOLF GAB GROANER
Four golfers went out to Las Vegas. After playing golf and gambling for several days, they decided to attend church on Sunday morning.
At the end of the service, Harry reached into his pockets found that he had only brought casino chips with him.
“Don’t worry,” whispered Eddie, “the churches out here have discovered that visitors will often put chips into the offering plate. Since they get chips from many different casinos, they’ve come up with a way to collect the offerings.”
“Yeah?” asked Harry. “How do they do that?”
“All the churches send their chips to a Franciscan monastery for sorting,” Eddie said, “and then the chips are taken to the casinos of origin and cashed in.”
“Wow, that’s really interesting,” said Harry.
“Yep,” Eddie said. “It’s all done by Chip Monks.”
ELSA BONSTEIN is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.