The fifth staging of the Latin America Amateur Championship began early today at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. Rob Smith reports…

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Latin America Amateur Championship – Day One

From Argentina to Jamaica and from Mexico to Uruguay, the field of 108 leading amateur golfers set out in competition today on the stunning Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo. Representing the finest amateur talent in the area, some of these elite golfers will be the stars of tomorrow, and each is looking to win the most important event of its kind in the region.

Rodrigo Sanchez from the host nation gets the tournament under way

Play in the fifth Latin America Amateur Championship began bright and early at 7:15 on a beautiful morning with plenty of sunshine and just a light breeze here in the beautiful Caribbean. On the eve of the tournament, a number of the competitors had been asked their predictions of a winning score, and these tended to be around 4- or 5-under though they all stressed that the wind would be a vital factor.

For this tournament, the two nines have been swapped over. This should lead to more drama and be ideal for the TV coverage as it means 14 to 17 run along the shore and the closing hole is a reachable par 5 that could see birdies and even eagles.

Alvaro Ortiz in full flow on his way to a 66

Interestingly, virtually all the early leaders were those playing the back nine first. Taking advantage of the benign conditions, Alvaro Ortiz from Mexico was off to a blistering start, racing to the turn in 32 despite a bogey on the long 12th. The University of Arkansas graduate continued the good form with a birdie at the 1st before an eagle at his final par-5, the 5th, took him to 7-under. A bogey at the next dented his score, but three pars saw him finish the morning as clubhouse leader with a hugely impressive 66.

A packed media centre awaits the organisers’ Press Conference

While Ortiz was out on the course, the traditional championship Press Conference took place hosted by the most senior representatives of the organising bodies; Chairman Fred Ridley from the Masters Tournament, CEO of The R&A Martin Slumbers, and Mike Davis, CEO of the USGA.

Top of the agenda was the announcement of next year’s venue which sees the event visit Mexico for the first time. The host club will be Mayakoba’s El Camaleón on Riviera Maya, a course that was the first outside the USA and Canada to host a PGA tournament, the Mayakoba Golf Classic, which produced winners such as Graeme McDowell and Matt Kuchar.

Fred Ridley, Martin Slumbers and Mike Davis at the Press Conference

The Q&A session produced some interesting and informative views from the three officials. Commenting on the reason for the LAAC and how the hopes for it can be fulfilled, Martin Slumbers said, “What we are trying to do as an organisation around the world is ensure that golf is thriving 50 years from now. That’s really what drives us – not just so much what’s happening today, but where is the game going. We’ve been working in Latin America for many years, and when we think about it in terms of the next 50 years, the opportunity for the game to grow in this region is huge. But to make that reality, you need to have the whole pyramid of the game from grass roots in schools, with children learning to play the game, through clubs, through public facilities, through places that are easily accessible, right up to the elite event. That hopefully creates the inspiration down through the pyramid.”

State-of-the-art leaderboard at the closing hole

Back out on the course, the expected stronger wind stayed away but the cloud moved in with light showers refreshing the afternoon players. Live coverage of the back nine was going out on TV in the afternoon, and the leaderboard by the 18th green kept everyone informed with how they were getting on.

Starting at the 1st, home player Enrique Valverde had five birdies and five pars in his first ten holes to move up into sole possession of second spot. Sadly, a somewhat rollercoaster finish saw him drop back to 2-under, in a group just a shot behind the five players in joint-second.

The leaderboard at the end of the opening day

There are plenty of other golfers under par and the remainder of the field will all be looking to make up ground tomorrow before the cut for the weekend which will be the leading 50 and ties. This may sound odd coming from someone called Smith, but slightly confusingly (for me!) the overnight leader is one of two Alvaro Ortizes in the field, the other being from Costa Rica. As you would expect, early and late tee times swap over for Friday, and the wind may well be key again and even things out. Regardless, it will be very interesting to see how these talented, friendly, and remarkably mature youngsters progress.