Golf

Third Dustin Johnson Junior has attracted strong national field. Will Johnson attend?

International flags fly along the practice range at TPC Myrtle Beach during the inaugural Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship in February 2016.
International flags fly along the practice range at TPC Myrtle Beach during the inaugural Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship in February 2016. file photo

The third annual Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship at the TPC Myrtle Beach next month will feature most of the top players from the Carolinas and many of the top juniors in the United States.

The field for the 54-hole tournament from Feb. 23-25 has been set, with the exception of three players from a qualifier next month in Myrtle Beach and any cancellations that will be replaced by alternates on a waiting list.

The tournament features 13 boys ranked in the top 100 in the U.S. by either Golfweek or the Junior Golf Scoreboard, and seven girls ranked in the top 100. Registered players are from 22 U.S. states, Canada and New Zealand.

The tournament has attracted nine of the top 10 boys in South Carolina and seven of the top 10 boys in North Carolina, and the top five ranked girls in South Carolina and two of the top five in North Carolina.

The Grand Strand will be represented by Coastal Carolina commitment Holden Grigg of Myrtle Beach in the boys competition and South Carolina commitment Smith Knaffle of Murrells Inlet in the girls competition. Coastal signee Brady Hinkle of Lancaster is also entered.

Tournament organizers, including course ownership and management company Founders Group International and the Dustin Johnson Golf School headed by Allen Terrell, provide a first rate experience and gifts for the participants.

“I think the field is going to be fantastic and the kids are going to love it,” said Scott Tomasello, events director for Golf Tourism Solutions, which is assisting with tournament operations. “It’s almost three times to four times better than each year prior. In terms of strength of field we’ve seen a huge increase, with Dustin’s presence being a key factor. Not just that but the experience he provides them. It’s first class.”

The tournament’s namesake made an appearance at last year’s tournament, but Johnson has not yet committed to making an appearance this year. He said following his pre-tournament press conference at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Wednesday that he will try to make an appearance, though likely just for a day if his schedule permits.

The tournament is the week of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., which Johnson usually skips.

Johnson took part last year in the pre-tournament player welcome banquet at Wicked Tuna in Murrells Inlet, and took pictures with each participant and his 2016 U.S. Open trophy that he signed and had delivered to the players’ lockers.

He was also there for much of the first round, following Tristan Gretzky of Thousand Oaks, Calif., his de facto brother in law, for part of the round. Tristan is the brother of Johnson’s fiancée, Paulina Gretzky, and is entered again this year.

Florida has the most players with 18, and there are 30 from the Carolinas and four each from California, Ohio and Georgia. More than 30 registered participants have signed with colleges, including three with Clemson and eight with SEC schools, and numerous others are verbally committed to college programs.

The boys field features Akshay Bhatia of Wake Forest, N.C., a high school sophomore who is ranked 11th in the nation, as well as No. 26 and Clemson signee Jacob Bridgeman of Inman and No. 41 and UNC Charlotte signee Carson Ownbey of Chandler, N.C.

Defending girls champion and South Carolina commitment Skylar Thompson of Buford, Ga., has committed to defend her title, and will be challenged by Ashely Menne of Surprise, Ariz., who is ranked 18th in the nation, and Alexa Pano of Lake Worth, Fla., who is ranked 21st in the nation despite being in just eighth grade.

Tournament organizers have set aside two boys spots and one girls spot for the top finishers in an 18-hole qualifying tournament for those not already in the field.

The qualifier will be held Feb. 10 at the Wild Wing Avocet Course. It can accommodate 84 players and 62 have already registered. The entry fee is $40 and the entry deadline is Feb. 6. More information on the qualifier is available by calling 800-833-8798, ext. 214.

Palmer adds course

Arnold Palmer Golf Management has added a course in the Grand Strand market, and now operates six between Horry, Georgetown and Brunswick counties.

The company, which operates three courses at Legends Resort as well as Heritage Club in Pawleys Island and Oyster Bay Golf Links in Sunset Beach, N.C., took over management on Jan. 1 of Carolina National Golf Club in Bolivia, N.C.

The club’s staff, which includes general manager Steve Beecroft and marketing director Steve Lee, is not changing.

“I see it as a well-known and well represented management company that brings structure and backing to our course,” Beecroft said.

Carolina National, a semi-private 27-hole Fred Couples and Gene Bates design, had been managed by Traditional Golf Properties of Virginia since 2010, and had previously been managed by Bluegreen Golf Clubs from its opening in 1998.

The club split from Traditional in April and was self-managed for the remainder of the year.

Carolina National’s split ownership group also owns four courses in the area of Raleigh, N.C. – Falls Village Golf Club, The Preserve at Jordan Lake Golf Club, Chapel Ridge Golf Club and Heritage Golf Club – and Arnold Palmer Golf Management has taken over operation of all five. Heritage is the only private club among them.

What makes Carolina National’s management agreement different than the other five Arnold Palmer courses on the Strand is they are all owned by Arnold Palmer’s parent company, Century Golf Partners based in Texas.

So the management company’s policies in the area, including comprehensive golf rates that include breakfast, lunch and two drinks with affordable green and cart fees, won’t necessarily be implemented at Carolina National.

“Our management has to answer to our ownership in Raleigh, so it won’t be a blanket program for what works for their other courses around here,” Carolina National general manager Steve Beecroft said. “We just have to adapt to their model of reporting, human resources, etc., because they’re very established in those areas.”

Carolina National will be recognizing its 20th anniversary this year with specials, tournaments and social events that are being planned, and Arnold Palmer Golf Management is expected to offer new programs for members and non-members as early as February.

Among the best

Several Grand Strand golf courses have made Golfweek magazine lists of the best courses in the U.S. and best courses in South Carolina.

Among the Top 100 Resort Courses in the U.S., The Dunes Golf and Beach Club is ranked 29th, Caledonia Golf & Fish Club is 37th, True Blue Golf Club is 75th and Legends Resort’s Moorland Course is ranked 82nd. Pebble Beach Golf Links in California is No. 1 and Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course in No. 8 on the list.

The Strand features eight of Golfweek’s top 14 Resort Courses in South Carolina, with The Dunes Club, Caledonia, True Blue and the Moorland Course being joined by the King’s North Course at Myrtle Beach National, the Grande Dunes Resort Course, and Barefoot Resort’s Love and Dye courses.

Tidewater Golf Club and Plantation was listed among the 20 Best Residential Courses in South Carolina, and was one of only a couple non-private clubs to make the list.

In North Carolina, Brunswick County courses Cape Fear National and the Bald Head Island Club made the lists of the top residential and resort courses in the state, respectively.

The ratings are included in Golfweek’s “Ultimate Guide” and “Best Courses You Can Play” publications.

Every year, Golfweek’s team of course raters, which features more than 850 evaluators, surveys more than 3,600 courses and grades each nominated course on 10 standards of evaluation. Collectively, the raters have turned in more than 75,000 votes to compile Golfweek’s best courses lists.

Avenue to Augusta

Coastal Carolina University junior Luis Ruiz has been selected to play in the 2018 Latin America Amateur Championship from Saturday through Tuesday at the Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago, Chile.

The winner will be invited to the 2018 Masters and receive exemptions into the final stages of qualifying for this year’s U.S. Open and British Open.

Ruiz is one of eight golfers from his native Mexico selected to play in the 180-player event featuring players from 27 Latin American countries. His older brother and former CCU teammate, Alfredo, was selected to play in last year’s tournament.

Ruiz led CCU in scoring average last season (73.64) and had a strong fall with a 71.58 scoring average. Of his 12 rounds this season, he has posted eight rounds of par or better, including five rounds in the 60s. He shared medalist honors at the 2017 Sun Belt Conference Championship.

The Latin America Amateur Championship is organized by the Masters Tournament, R&A and the USGA and will be broadcast on five continents through ESPN and ESPN2, with live streaming at http://www.laacgolf.com.

Strike affects broadcasts

A strike that began Sunday by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (ITASE) disrupted Golf Channel’s final round broadcast of the PGA Tour’s Sony Open and Sunday’s second round broadcast of the Web.com Tour’s Exuma Classic.

The action came after a union vote rejected a recent contract offer and negotiations stalled over a new contract, and many audio and video workers walked off the job.

Golf Channel producers scrambled to put together Sunday broadcasts with fewer cameras and a loss of features such as on-course reporters, and the call of play from Golf Channel’s studio in Orlando rather than from the on-air team that called the first three rounds.

According to the Associated Press, a meeting between the two sides was scheduled for Tuesday. If a resolution isn’t achieved, this week’s broadcasts of the PGA Tour’s CareerBuilder Challenge and the Champions Tour’s season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship, both Golf Channel-produced tournaments, are likely to be affected.

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin

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