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World Amateur draws global participants for a week of fun and golf

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

The PGA Superstore World Amateur Tournament celebrates its 25th anniversary this week. Golfers from 47 states and 48 countries are playing golf, walking the beach, shopping, partying and having a great time.

The World Amateur Handicap Championship was started in 1984 by Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday as a way of getting folks to come here during the dog days of summer when golf courses languish half-filled in the heat and humidity.

In that first tournament, 684 golfers came to Myrtle Beach, S.C., had a great time and talked it up when they got back home.

Year by year, the event grew and grew. This week, more than 3,600 golfers are spread over 34 courses from Pawley’s Island, S.C., to Shallotte. Brunswick County courses include Brick Landing, Crow Creek, Farmstead/Meadowlands, Ocean Ridge (Leopard’s Chase, Panther’s Run, Tiger’s Eye), The Pearl, Rivers Edge, Sandpiper Bay and Thistle.

“We don’t advertise a lot,” said Dave Macpherson, tournament director of the World Amateur for the past four years. “The amateur works because the golfers always have a great time. That is our best advertisement and keeps us growing.”

Macpherson, originally from Buffalo, N.Y., attended Coastal Carolina University, receiving a degree in professional golf management (PGM). He loved the area and went to work for Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday. After working in sales and events for several years, he was promoted to tournament director of the world’s biggest amateur event, a job he truly enjoys.

“There’s a big adrenaline rush now because we’ve been working for a whole year to bring it off,” he said as we sat in the vast hallway of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, the hub of registration and social events for the tournament. Behind him, dozens of men and women from the far corners of the world registered at tables broken down to minute alphabetical designations to prevent lines.

“At the end of September, we have a post-conference to review what happened and immediately after that meeting, we begin work on the next year’s event,” Macpherson said.

The World Amateur draws men and women from around the world. This year, 60 golfers from Italy came to compete.

“It started with a few people from Italy, now there are dozens,” Dave said. “That’s the story of this tournament. We have 1,000 new players this year. The average competitor has been here seven years. That’s longer than most marriages,” he quipped with a smile.

As the tournament ages, so do the competitors.

“We still pull in a lot of young golfers with low handicaps,” Macpherson said, “but some of our guys have been coming since they were in their 40s. As they continue to compete, they move into the higher age categories. Today, our largest group of players is in the 50-59 year category.”

Because so many golfers are repeat competitors, friendships are formed and continued each year when the group re-assembles. Social events take place every night at the 19th Hole at the Convention Center with food, drinks and live entertainment for both participants and spouses. Leisure Travel runs special day trips to Charlotte, Brookgreen Gardens and other points of interest during the weeklong tournament. With a homestand this week, the Pelicans baseball team had a booth at the registration area.

“A golfer will often play with the same handicap group each year, and get to know the other guys,” Macpherson said. “When new people come in, they are often friends of golfers who have already been here several times. On the first big party night, Monday, we get over 6,000 people at our big 19th Hole bash. It’s like old home week, meeting and greeting each other.”

To make the competition fair for players of disparate handicaps, the lower handicaps play the more difficult courses and from tees set back at 7,000-plus yards. USGA Handicaps are vigorously monitored and over the years, strangely low scores have resulted in disqualification.

In addition, Macpherson and his committee make sure golfers get to see as much of the Grand Strand as possible.

“Each of the golfers plays south, central and northern courses,” he said. “We also try to expose our players to different courses each year.”

This week is the culmination of a lot of hard work for Dave and his full-time staff of four. Part-time workers and volunteers round out the effort.

“The big push for us is Monday through Thursday,” he said. “Most days we’re on the job at 6 a.m. and finished after 10 p.m. I average four hours of sleep during the tournament. On Thursday night, the tournament is over and all the results have to be in, then we must get ready for the finals of the International Pairs Competition at the Dunes Club the next day.”

Over the years, the tournament has expanded its options for golfers, providing several other tournaments within the amateur. The International Pairs Competition is one of those events.

Established in 1998, that event is played within the amateur and uses the same scores. For a fee of $50 per player ($100 per team), golfers use their 72-hole combined net team score to qualify for the finals at the Dunes Club on Friday. Players do not need to play together; their team scores are automatically entered each day. Twenty couples qualify and the prizes are gift certificates to the PGA Tour Superstore, ranging from $900 for first place to $100 for 20th. The grand prize is an all-expenses paid trip and entry in the International Pairs Championship in Scotland in 2009.

This is the first year for the Cory Lemke Parent-Child tournament. The tournament is free, but both participants must be registered in the amateur. The relationship may be son, daughter, nephew, grandfather, grandmother, stepson, stepdaughter or any parent-child relationship. The event was established this year in honor of Cory Lemke, who won his flight in 2002 at the age of 15 but died a motorcycle accident in 2006. His father, Mark Lemke, a 12-year participant in the Amateur, established the tournament to honor his son.

There are several other charity and celebrity events before the World Amateur, so golfers can extend their trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., by several days.

As I left the convention center, I spoke with three couples from Texas who had just arrived for the tournment.

Steve Manis told me he was the first golfer from his area to come to the amateur five years ago.

“I gave Steve the trip for a Christmas present,” his wife, Chaille, said. “He had a wonderful time. Soon I was coming to play in it, and each year more couples joined us. Now there are six or seven couples from our part of the Gulf Coast.”

The other couples were Ricky and Janet Walker, in their third year of the amateur, and Jay and Janet Gantinbein, the rookies of the group.

Asked about the heat and humidity of the Grand Strand in August, they all laughed.

“This is cool to us, we need our sweaters,” Jay said. “The temperature in our part of Texas right now is 99 degrees and the humidity is 100 percent. The temperature of the water averages 92 degrees. We can’t swim in our pools until evening or early in the morning. Myrtle Beach is heaven to us at this time of the year.”

Janet Walker has multiple sclerosis and told me she trains for this trip each year.

“I work hard to keep myself fit so I can come here and play golf,” she said. “It’s a goal for me each year.”

If that’s the kind of spirit that dominates the PGA Tour Superstore World Amateur, it will be a success for many years to come.

GOLF GAB GROANER

The old golfer went to his doctor for a checkup. After examining him, the doctor said, “You’re fine. You’ll live to be 70.”

“But doctor,” the golfer protested, “I am 70.”

“See. What did I tell you?”

ELSA BONSTEIN is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net.