The waiting is over and the players are underway at Casa de Campo as the best amateur golfers from South and Central America and The Caribbean do battle for the 2016 Latin America Amateur Championship.
Last night was the official Opening Ceremony for the Latin America Amateur Championship at the stunning Casa Grande at the Casa de Campo resort. There were stirring speeches by representatives from each of the founding partners that highlighted the fabulous opportunity for those competing this week.
The winner of this tournament will receive an invitation to the 2016 U.S. Masters. He will also earn an exemption into The Amateur Championship at Royal Porthcawl and to any USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible (including the US Amateur.) The winner and runner(s) up gain an exemption to Final Qualifying for The Open Championship at Royal Troon and final stage qualifying for the US Open at Oakmont CC.
Billy Payne – chairman of Augusta National, Gavin Caldwell – captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and Tom O’Toole, president of the USGA all spoke keenly about the significance of this event and how important it is for each of their respective organisations to play a role in developing golf in this area and around the world.
There is a distinct air of positivity here with great excitement about what is being achieved. At a time when golf in the UK has undergone a period of declining participation, it’s refreshing to see how the sport is thriving and growing in this region.
This event has introduced golf to a new audience. 2015 champion Matias Dominguez spoke yesterday about how his victory last year and subsequent invitation to the US Masters inspired many in Chile who had never watched golf before to tune in to the action from Buenos Aires and then Augusta. Dominguez is now working with the Chilean golf federation to look at ways to further increase participation in the sport in his home country.
The R&A has a long involvement in this region and they continue to invest resource both in terms of finance and expertise into growing the game across Latin America. Something I was reminded of during a conversation last night is that all of the R&A’s income comes from the Open Championship and that all of it is reinvested in golf – at home and around the world. It’s something we as golf fans should consider – When we hand over money for a ticket at The Open Championship, we are investing in golf. The money may go to fund a public course in a developing region, towards grassroots programmes or to fund junior golf schemes at home or abroad. Basically, they do an exceptional job and deserve more credit for it.
The players competing this week have a great opportunity, not just to achieve personal glory, but also to inspire a new generation of players in their home countries, following the example of Matias Dominguez. And the first starters are clearly keen to do just that. As I write there are 17 players under par after only two hours of play, the leader is three-under-par. General consensus before the tournament started was that, owing to the difficulty of the course, the winning number after four rounds was likely to be around the four or five-under mark. If this keeps up that will be surpassed with something to spare.