On Grand Strand Golf: New Ryder Cup-style amateur event expands Myrtle Beach’s connection with China

ablondin@thesunnews.comFebruary 24, 2014 

Marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday continues to expand its reach into the Peoples Republic of China with a new amateur Ryder Cup-style event featuring teams from the U.S. and the world’s most populous country.

The Sino-US Cup has been created and will be played for the first time July 3-4 at Nanshan Golf Club in Yantai, China.

The matches will alternate between the Grand Strand and China, and the 2015 tournament is expected to be held around the time of the 32nd Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship, possibly the week before since most if not all of the participants are expected to also take part in that event.

“They love the idea of competing,” Golf Holiday president Bill Golden said. “These amateur competitions and net events are new to China. They find it very interesting, they find it very fulfilling and find sponsor dollars for this.”

The inaugural tournament will be held in concert with the Chinese qualifying finals for the World Am. A group of Chinese players will participate in the World Am on the Strand this year for the third consecutive year in late August.

Both Cup teams will have 12 players with competitive handicaps of about 8 or less. The gross match play formats for the 36-hole event will be two-man best ball in the first round and singles matches in the final round.

The Chinese players will be the winners of a series of 12 World Am-China tournaments that establish the field for the Chinese qualifying finals for the World Am. Chinese sports marketing company Olle Sports organizes and operates the events, and has partnered with Golf Holiday to create the Sino-US Cup.

“The Sino-US Cup is an expansion of the relationship between Chinese golfers and Myrtle Beach,” Olle Sports vice president Winsen Qian said in an email. “We’d love to create more platforms of communication between the two, such as golf training at Myrtle Beach for young Chinese golfers, tourist packages in collaboration with Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, sister cities establishment and other exciting possibilities.

“Myrtle Beach is undoubtedly the paradise for golfers, and good stuff should be shared. I am confident that there will be more and more Chinese golfers heading for Myrtle Beach in the days to come.”

Golf Holiday officials are still determining how this year’s U.S. team will be selected. But they intend to invite high finishers among low handicap players in the 2013 World Am, and have also spoken to the directors of amateur tours in Atlanta and Pittsburgh about its tour champions or top players competing, as long as those individuals compete in the World Am. Both tours hold their season-ending championships on the Strand.

“We’re going to want to go over there with a team that can compete, but it’s obviously about more than just the competition,” said Golf Holiday tournaments director Jeff Monday, who will be the U.S. Team captain.

Future U.S. teams will be based on the top finishers in the World Am.

U.S. participants will receive lodging, transportation, golf including two practice rounds, meals and beverages courtesy of the Chinese hosts and sponsors, and Golf Holiday officials have committed to pay for airfare and are seeking sponsors to cover flights and some other expenses. They anticipate a number of companies will be interested in gaining some exposure in China and with Chinese golfers.

“It might bring more folks here long-term, and maybe eventually it spins off and is not during the World Amateur,” Golden said. “It might be a different time of year, and maybe eventually other countries might get involved.”

Golden said he and Qian have also discussed the possibility of junior golf competitions.

The inaugural Sino-US Cup is expected to have at least the amount of pomp and circumstance featured at the Chinese World Am final qualifier, including speeches, press conferences and opening ceremonies with fireworks and music.

Golden said representatives from Malaysia who have been contacted through Qian will be observing this year’s World Am. “He’s working his contacts throughout Asia to talk about what we’re collectively doing and how they can get involved in it,” Golden said. “It’s conceivable these World Amateur qualifiers will expand throughout Asia, and the opportunity there is limitless.”

The inroads into Asia are particularly attractive to Golf Holiday because it is spending little if any money on the Sino-US Cup and World Am coordinated events.

“I don’t know of any other destination that is there in China, particularly golf destinations, like we are,” Golden said. “We have deep relationships now with the golf community and we have sponsors’ backing through Olle Sports to support these initiatives.

“Having that in place now, it’s hard to translate what that’s going to mean next year or five years from now, but no one can argue the fact that is an emerging market for travel in general and certainly for golf. The travel numbers coming out of there are astounding, and we are there now. … It’s something that we should be very proud of. We’re in a very unique position there.”

World Am gets gross

Future U.S. players in the Sino-US Cup will come from a new World Am gross division that is being created for the 2014 event and beyond.

So the World Am will have both net and gross winners this year, allowing tournament organizers to crown a true champion who shoots the lowest aggregate score.

“That is just another way to hopefully grow the event, even if it’s by 100 people,” Monday said. “A lot of low handicap players stray away from handicap events. They don’t want to go up against someone who is getting a couple shots on them.”

Golden said a gross division was attempted approximately 20 years ago but it wasn’t considered successful and was quickly scrapped. “It never grew,” Golden said, “and I don’t know that we supported it in the ways that we should have back then. It wasn’t a huge priority because it’s a net event.

“Now this gives us a great vehicle to help qualify people for [the Sino-US Cup], plus it might open us up to some golfers we might not otherwise get.”

The chance to earn one of several expenses-paid trips back to the Strand to participate in the Sino-US Cup gives strong amateur players extra incentive to enter the gross flight.

Golf Holiday partnered with amateurgolf.com to provide logoed Jones’ golf bags last year to the low gross winners in five divisions – men ages 49 and younger, men 50-59, men 60-69, men 79 and older and women – who were also invited to play an extra round at the Dye Club during the net championship round.

“It was a good start to get some interest in it,” Monday said. “But we feel we can fill a flight or two with people who just want to play in a scratch division.”

Golf Holiday will begin accepting World Am entries on March 25. The 30th event last year attracted approximately 3,300 players and was played on more than 50 Strand courses.

Johnson visiting

Coastal Carolina alumnus and Myrtle Beach property owner Dustin Johnson will be on the Strand on Friday during a week off from his PGA Tour schedule to fulfill duties as a hired spokesperson for Golf Holiday.

Johnson will be playing at the TPC of Myrtle Beach with a foursome that includes the winner of a sweepstakes that awarded the opportunity to play with him through a promotion sponsored by Golf Holiday, Golfsmith and affiliated Golf Town stores in Canada.

Johnson will also be taking part in videos and photos for various Golf Holiday promotions. A photo shoot is for the spring issue of WestJet Airlines’ in-flight up! magazine, which will feature Johnson on the cover. Canada-based WestJet will resume flights to Myrtle Beach next month.

A video will feature Johnson promoting Myrtle Beach and World Am-related events for an audience in China through outlets including websites and social media. The video will also be aired at World Am-China qualifying events.

Golf Holiday intends to leverage Johnson’s popularity in China, which undoubtedly increased when he won the $8.5 million World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions tournament in November at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.

“I’m sure he’s like a rock star over there, so we’re able to take advantage of that and have him carry our message about Myrtle Beach and the World Amateur as well, so it has lined up perfectly,” Golden said.

Johnson will also be conducting a free clinic that is open to the public from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday at the new Golfsmith location at the intersection of U.S. 17 and U.S. 501. He will hold a short Q&A with the audience and 10 people will be randomly selected for photos and autographs with the PGA Tour star.

The sweepstakes winner is Preston Browder of Charlotte, N.C., and his three guests are Texans Phillip Dooling of Austin, Carson Cullen of Midland and Mason Page of Dallas. The foursome is playing the Moorland Course at Legends Resort, Myrtlewood’s Palmetto Course and the TPC during a visit that begins Thursday and ends Sunday.

Open tickets selling

The United States Golf Association announced last week that all Series ticket packages, a first-time offering that included a ticket for each day of the 2014 back-to-back U.S. Open Championships and access to VIP parking, are sold out.

The U.S. Open (June 9-15) and U.S. Women’s Open (June 17-22) will be held at Pinehurst Resort’s No. 2 course, marking the first time the two will be held in consecutive weeks and on the same course.

Weekly and daily tickets for the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open are still available, but are selling quickly. The men’s U.S. Open has sold out 27 consecutive years.

Ticket orders will only be accepted on USGA websites at www.usopen.com or www.usga.org/tickets or through a mailed application. Email ticketquestions@usga.org or call 1-800-698-0661 with questions or requests.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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