The Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship finally managed to attract players from the two Dakotas and Idaho in the same year, but Alaska is keeping the event from having players from all 50 states this year.
The 34th World Am has again attracted more than 3,000 players, with 3,009 players registered as of Monday from the 49 states and 22 nations. Countries new to the event are Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.
It will be played next Monday through Friday on 52 Grand Strand courses, including Friday’s championship-round host the Dye Club at Barefoot Resort, and 32 will be used for each of the first four rounds.
The world’s largest single-site golf tournament is down from more than 3,060 players last year for a mild drop of about 1.7 percent. The tournament had more than 3,400 players in 2014 but play has declined in now each of the past three years.
“If I only looked at that as a whole I would be, not discouraged, but we always hope for a little bit of growth or at least a flatline would be good. … But we’re up domestically,” said Jeff Monday, tournaments director for marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which operates the event.
Monday said the event has 77 fewer international players compared to 2016, though there are three more from Canada despite an exchange rate that remains unfavorable for Canadians. There are far less Europeans this year, and the Euro and English Pound have also slipped in value.
“That was very unexpected for us, and I’m not really sure what to attribute that to, but it’s something we’ll kind of have to look at,” Monday said. “We’ll survey those players after this year to see if there’s a reason they didn’t come back.
“I don’t know whether it’s [exchange rate] or just an overall climate as far as travel goes. So we’ll look forward to seeing what those people have to say.”
The tournament has featured players from 48 states in each of the past three years, with South Dakota and Alaska the holdouts last year, North Dakota and South Dakota absent in 2015, and South Dakota and Idaho missing in 2014.
“We’ve done well with getting new players and returning people who haven’t played in a few years,” Monday said.
Registration isn’t necessarily closed, and each flight could handle a few more players, but it would be difficult for organizers to accept new players because of handicap research. “We’re never going to turn anybody away from playing in the event, but at that point there are a lot more restrictions on needing a handicap because we’ve already gone through all that, especially a first-time player,” Monday said.
There are three new divisions this year. The gross division that doesn’t factor in handicaps was brought back three years ago and a senior gross division has been added this year and has attracted 48 players, the same amount that is in the open gross division. “Hopefully we can build on both of those,” Monday said.
A division for players 80 and older has also been created and has 45 players. Monday said he’s had requests for the 80-and-up division, which will play courses that have forward tees with men’s ratings. “They would always say they had to play with those young guys, those 70-year-olds,” Monday said. “They’re appreciative of it and we were able to actually get people who haven’t played for a few years to come back and do that.”
A Just For Fun non-competitive division has been added, in which the approximate 50 participants will not be required to play by the rules and will not compete for flight prizes, yet they’ll have all other tournament benefits including the gift bag, 19th Hole and four rounds of golf.
“We’re an all-inclusive golf tournament,” Monday said. “We want to fit what everybody wants. Whether that’s the young guy who wants to play with no handicap or the 86-year-old who wants to play with other 80-year-olds. It’s all about finding ways to really incorporate as many people as we can into the event.”
The tournament’s 19th hole expo at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center will be emceed by Golf Channel personalities Charlie Rymer for its first two days and Damon Hack and Chantel McCabe for the final two days. John Maginnes and Brian Katrek will broadcast their show on Sirius/XM Radio’s PGA Tour Radio each day from the expo, and both McCabe and pro golfer and social media sensation Paige Spiranac will take part in on-stage discussions and interact with participants for contests and interviews on the floor. Spiranac will be at the convention center Tuesday and Wednesday.
Billiards world champion Ewa Mataya Laurance of Conway will be challenging contestants to matches.
Area golf instructors including Brad Redding and Hugh Royer III, and Randy Joyner of Ballantyne Country Club in Charlotte will give instruction and field questions on stage, and bands performing include East Coast Party Band on Monday, Plane Jane on Tuesday and Soul Fish on Thursday, and Karaoke returns Wednesday.
The 19th hole will include putting and pin proximity contests with opportunities to win $25,000 for a made long putt or hole in one, a nine-hole putting course, arcade games, four Wii stations, pool tables, table tennis and foosball tables.
“We’ll have everything associated with being the largest golf course party anybody can imagine,” Monday said.
The event also includes a new phone app for participants to easily find information, and live scoring is possible for players who want to post them hole by hole. Championship round scoring will be live and posted by tournament organizers.
Sea Trail renovates
Sea Trail Golf Resort in Sunset Beach, N.C., is continuing renovations this summer, and has adopted the all-inclusive rate specials that were employed several years ago by Arnold Palmer Golf Management at its five area properties including Legends Resort.
The three-course Sea Trail is rebuilding bunkers on its Willard Byrd-designed course. The project includes the removal of nearly 20 bunkers that were generally out of play, reshaping of bunkers to make them more rounded, new drainage and new white sand, which is different than the bunker sand on the property’s other two courses.
The Byrd Course is open only to members during the project, which began in early July and is expected to be completed within the next three weeks.
Also recently, parking lots for all of the golf courses and convention center were sealed, a new fleet of 220 golf carts complete with USB ports was delivered, and two new shuttle buses were purchased that can transport people to and from the beach and into and out of Sea Trail. Several areas of mulch, flowers, bushes and trees have been planted around the property for aesthetics.
Last summer, the Jones Course greens were changed from bentgrass to Champion ultradwarf Bermudagrass to complete a renovation over a couple years that included new bunkers and cart paths, and the Byrd greens were changed from bent to Champion in 2010.
Sea Trail’s Dan Maples-designed course is closed until early September to protect its bent greens, and those greens will likely become an ultradwarf Bermuda in the near future.
On Monday, Sea Trail began offering locals and Myrtle Beach Golf Passport card holders breakfast, lunch and two drinks to go along with 18 holes for the price of $39 in the morning and $34 in the afternoon. The all-inclusive package will be available to all players on Sept. 21 with varying rates depending on the time of year.
Maples players can get a breakfast sandwich and cold lunch sandwiches if they choose not to go to Byrd/Jones clubhouse, where a breakfast buffet is available from 6-10 a.m. and cooked lunches are available from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We just added the amenity and hopefully flood the golf courses,” said three-month Sea Trail director of golf operations Jamie Roderick, who was previously the general manager at Thistle Golf Club and International Club of Myrtle Beach.
Diaz on bubble
Former Myrtle Beach resident Roberto Diaz is in a precarious position with one Web.com Tour event remaining in the regular season.
The top 25 on the money list following this week’s WinCo Foods Portland Open in Oregon earn PGA Tour status next year, and Diaz moved up from 25th to 24th on Sunday with a tie for 34th in the News Sentinel Open in Knoxville, Tenn. He earned $2685.83 to surpass $155,000 in tour earnings this year.
Diaz, who lived in Myrtle Beach for seven years before moving to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., last year and still represents the Greg Norman Champions Golf Academy at Barefoot Resort, is a little more than $5,000 ahead of Rob Oppenheim in 26th place.
If the Mexico native and USC Aiken graduate falls outside the top 25, he would need to finish in the top 50 in the upcoming four-event Web.com Tour Finals in order to earn a spot on the 2018 PGA Tour.
Diaz has been making gradual progress on the Web.com. After narrowly missing being inside the top 75 on the money list in 2014 and 2015 he qualified for the first time last year for the Web.com Tour Finals.
Prestwick best ball
Former Coastal Carolina golfer Jay McAllister of Myrtle Beach and partner Bryan Kelley Jr. of Spartanburg finished in a four-way tie for second Sunday in the 23rd South Carolina Mid-Amateur Four Ball Championship at Prestwick Country Club.
The uncle and nephew combination of Walter and Thomas Todd of Laurens came from behind to win with a 13-under 66-65–131 that included three consecutive birdies on their back nine Sunday. McAllister, owner of Bourbon Street Bar & Grill, and Kelley posted a 67-66–133 in the 116-player event.
Jordan White, a senior and two-time team state champion at St. James High, rebounded from an opening-round 80 with a 69 in the final round Sunday to win the girls division of the South Carolina Junior Golf Association Tommy Hubert All-Star Championship at Seabrook Island.
She made seven birdies in the final round to post the lone under-par round by a female in either round and defeated runner-up Camila Burnett of Bluffton by five strokes.
St. James begins the 2017 high school season this weekend at the Aynor Lady Blue Jacket Invitational at Diamondback Golf Club.