Fergus Bisset arrives at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
After almost 24 hours of travelling, I find myself in the spacious and beautifully appointed media centre for the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC) taking place this week at Pilar Golf in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Founded by The Masters Tournament, The R&A and the USGA, this will be the inaugural LAAC and 109 of the region’s top amateurs, representing 28 different countries will tee it up on Thursday. The top-60 and ties after 36-holes will go on to battle for the title, and the potentially life-changing rewards that go with it, over a further two rounds on the weekend.
This tournament follows in the fantastically successful footsteps of the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship, which has been running since 2009. Also founded, and jointly run, by The Masters Tournament and the R&A, that event has produced some superb winners – Hideki Matsuyama of Japan won back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011 for example. After turning pro, he has climbed into the top-15 on the Official World Golf Ranking and has become a role model in his home country.
What makes the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship so special, and why the LAAC is likely to follow suit is the fact the winner earns an invitation to the U.S. Masters – a dream for any young golfer. He will also, together with the runner-up or runners-up, earn a place in Final Stage Qualifying for the Open Championship and an exemption to the Amateur Championship. With the involvement of the USGA in the LAAC, the winner of this event will also gain an exemption into the U.S. Amateur Championship and he (and runner(s) up) will be given a place in Sectional Qualifying for the U.S. Open. Basically, an embarrassment of golfing riches!
I was lucky enough to be out in Japan to see Hideki Matsuyama win the first of his two Asia Pacific Amateur titles and I was blown away by the quality of the golf on show there and the incredible levels of organisation displayed by the R&A and The Masters. Every element of the tournament was perfectly planned and executed. But I guess that’s what you’d expect from the bodies that run two of the biggest golf tournaments in the world.
At first glance, this event could surpass my Japanese experience in terms of precision management, particularly given the addition of the USGA into the mix. A look at the companies to have put their name beside this tournament screams gravitas: On the drive into the course I passed banners proclaiming IBM, Rolex, Mercedes Benz, Zurich, UPS, at&t and 3M as Event Partners. Big players who clearly realise the significance of what The Masters, R&A and USGA are trying to do here. There are amazing scoreboards across the course, beautifully made identity badges for officials, big screens, an area for press conferences and, as previously mentioned, an outstanding media centre.
I won’t lie, it’s been something of a mission to get here. I travelled from Aberdeen to London in a hurricane (I’m still not sure how that flight wasn’t cancelled.) Then came the longest single flight I’ve ever taken – Heathrow to Buenos Aires is 14 hours. It wasn’t too bad actually, aside from some gut-wrenching turbulence on the descent into the Argentinian capital – conditions that had four people in my near vicinity reaching for the sick bag. But we arrived on time and all seemed to be going swimmingly until the Buenos Aires baggage handlers went on a temporary strike – blaming an electrical storm in the vicinity – and failed to deliver anybody’s luggage for 2.5 hours.
When bags were finally provided there was an almighty scrum to get through customs and amongst the hundreds of taxi drivers waiting in Arrivals for clients who all piled out at the same time. I walked round in a daze for a good few minutes, banging into people with my oversized holdall and generally looking like a right joker, before I finally saw someone with an LAAC placard – Relief. But my name wasn’t on his list – semi-exhausted despondency. I went back to wandering aimlessly through the crowd until I literally bumped, accidentally into my driver who had all but given up on me.
But I got here in the end and I travelled to the course hopeful of seeing some action on the first practice day. Unfortunately the storm that had sent the Buenos Aires baggage handlers scurrying for cover, also gave Pilar GC a good drenching. So no golf today. The players are mostly all here though and have spent a few hours walking the course and hitting balls on the range. I’m going to come back tomorrow, check out the layout properly and report back. Before that I’m joining a few other journalists and some of the guys from the R&A, Masters and USGA for a steak in Buenos Aires – I’ll report back on that too. Based on reputation, my hopes are pretty high.