Rob Smith looks back on a week of wonderful on and off the course activity at the 2019 Latin America Amateur Championship…

Latin America Amateur Championship – Dominican Diary

Now that I have been home for a few days, I’ve had a chance to reflect on a few highlights from my week at the Latin America Amateur Championship at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, thoughts from both in front of and behind the scenes as well as one or two simple observations.

Fred Ridley (The Masters), Martin Slumbers (The R&A), Mike Davis (USGA)

Most importantly, what is the fledgling tournament all about? Happily, it’s a win-win as it’s all about growing the game that we love. Founded five years ago and organised by The R&A, The Masters Tournament and the USGA, this championship is a celebration of golf in Central and South America, Mexico and the Caribbean, which at the same time raises golf’s profile both within the region and worldwide.

Alvaro Ortiz taps in the winning putt

The tournament itself is covered in detail in my four daily reports – Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and its very worthy champion is Mexican Alvaro Ortiz. He receives a place in The Masters at Augusta in April as well as exemptions into the Amateur Championship and US Amateur.

The new champion is crowned

Both he and the runner-up, Luis Gagne from Costa Rica, qualify for sectional qualifying for the US Open which is at Pebble Beach in June, and final qualifying for The Open which is at Royal Portrush in July.

Local youngsters serving as volunteers

With live TV coverage and media from all over the world covering the event, the week was a great success. The tournament also promotes the game within the region and it was terrific to see so many people from the area, particularly youngsters, working hard behind the scenes.

A pre-tournament seminar on the updated Rules of Golf

To wide acclaim from the players and their supporting officials, there was a Rules Meeting at the start of the week hosted by Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior managing director for Governance, and Grant Moir, The R&A’s Director of Rules. They were keen to explain that the focus for the 2019 changes was to make them more user-friendly and sensible, and the feedback from all those attending was very positive.

The eve-of-tournament welcome party

The night before the first round, an opening ceremony took place at Casa de Campo’s amazing Mediterranean village reconstruction, Altos de Chavon. There was a chance to mingle and meet new people; this was great fun until an official from the Peruvian Golf Association asked me about Brexit!

Maurice Brandt from Haiti tees off

While the majority of golfers are brilliant amateurs aiming for a future in the game, spare a thought for Maurice Pasha Brandt from neighbouring Haiti. The 57-year-old was a cumulative 44-over for his two rounds, but I think that is to be applauded as he proudly represented his country which at the moment has just the one golf course!

Rob Smith on the tee of the par-3 sixteenth hole

In the May travel supplement, I will take a closer look at Casa de Campo and its three public-access golf courses. This is arguably the golfing destination in the Caribbean, and as a taster, here are snapshots I took as I was lucky enough to play them…

Teeth of the Dog – hole fourteen

For the championship, the two nines of the Teeth of the Dog were swapped over. This is the par-3 14th (normally the 5th), and it comes at the start of an extremely exciting oceanside stretch of four holes.

Dye Fore – Chavon – the opening hole

There are three nines on high ground at the Dye Fore Course – this is the opening hole, a par 5, on the Chavon nine.

The Links – hole fourteen

I managed an early-morning round on The Links before flying home and very much enjoyed its different character and slightly more forgiving design.

The sun sets at stunning Casa de Campo

In conclusion, it was a magnificent week – a growing and extremely important tournament that is working well to increase the popularity of golf, and a stunning resort that I would recommend to anyone.