Three Amateur tournaments every golfer should know about
29 Nov 2016
by Pete Wlodkowski of AmateurGolf.com

If you’re a fan of the game, you know about the U.S. Amateur. Long before the four “majors” of the game were defined, this was one of the most difficult trophies to get your name etched on. As a matter of fact, Bobby Jones won his first U.S. Open (in 1923) before winning his first U.S. Amateur the following year. For the sake of this article, I’m going to assume you’re familiar with the U.S. Amateur, and add that if you want to know why it’s important, simply Google the past champions list. Most notable? Tiger Woods three-straight wins, following three-straight U.S. Juniors. And Arnold Palmer, as the story goes, really knew he had a career in pro golf after winning in 1954.

SUNNEHANNA AMATEUR: Sunnehanna Country Club – Johnstown, PA
June 14-17, 2017

The Sunnehanna Amateur was inaugurated in July of 1954 -- it was the first country club sponsored 72-hole stroke play competition for amateurs in the United States. The tournament is played each June on a classic A.W. Tillinghast design.

"When the Sunnehanna Amateur was started in 1954 there were no major national medal play tournaments,” says tournament director John Yerger. “That's why Bill Campbell recommended Jack Nicklaus play at Sunnehanna.”

The 72-hole medal play format instituted at the Sunnehanna became a model copied by other events that would establish themselves as legs on the summer amateur circuit. At the Sunnehanna, however, the members wanted players to remember more than just the golf. According to Yerger:

“While the golf was important one of the most important principles was that the hospitality of the members would be remembered longer than the scores – that remains the case today.”

Sunnehanna contestants have included Chick Evans, Arnold Palmer, Julius Boros, Art Wall, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and Rickie Fowler.

THE PORTER CUP: Niagara Falls Country Club - Lewiston, NY
July 19-22, 2017

Long before Google, Facebook, and email, or cell phones, a good promoter could build an event by traveling the country and finding the best golfers where they hang out – at other events. That’s exactly what we used to do at AmateurGolf.com when we launched our first California tournament 16 years ago, and it’s what Porter Cup tournament director Dick Harvey did in the early 60s.

Harvey brought the nation’s best amateurs to a relatively short course on the Canadian border best known for its namesake Niagara Falls. Players still enjoy getting soaked on the “Maid of the Mist” while experiencing the majesty of the falls (it’s a must- experience when visiting the area). And like the Sunnehanna, the members go out of their way to make their experience memorable. And while galleries are rare in the amateur game, the final round crowd around the par-3 18th green at Niagara Falls Country Club can number into the thousands.

Assistant Tournament Director Cassie Stein is in charge of all of the player recruiting. The Porter Cup, and Niagara Falls Country Club run in the family for Stein, a former Golfweek writer who works for Global Golf Post.

“My grandparents were members of Niagara Falls CC,” she says. “My parents were as well, and they still enjoy housing players every year. We all enjoy spending time with the players and getting to know them before they turn pro.”

Indeed, Niagara Falls CC members embrace the tournament like no other we've seen. They serve on committees, and run so many events that the week is nicknamed “The Party Cup.” And if watching golf gives them the itch to play, the course is open for member play during tournament week in the late afternoon. Sunset views of the Toronto skyline across the river from the back deck are worth sticking around for.

THE SOUTHERN AMATEUR: Country Club of North Carolina – Pinehurst, NC
July 19-22, 2017

It’s a shame that two of the most historic events in amateur golf go up against each other on the calendar in 2017, but that’s the nature of the beast when so many tournaments are sandwiched in a three month window. This year the Porter Cup and Southern Amateur are both being played July 19-22, but that won’t stop both of them from drawing top fields.

The Southern Amateur is run by the Southern Golf Association, which also runs the Southern Junior. The tournament was founded in 1902 and played as a match play event until 1964, when the format changed to medal play. It has been contested at some of the top courses of the southern states, including East Lake (Atlanta), Pinehurst, Champions (Houston) and Atlanta Athletic Club. Country Club of Birmingham has hosted the most Southern Amateurs, (7) while this year’s host club, the Country Club of North Carolina, is right behind it at 6, but will tie that number by hosting this year.

A 13-year-old Bobby Jones played his first Southern Amateur at East Lake in 1915 as a member of a four-man team representing Atlanta Athletic Club. In the second round that year Jones (the youngest player in the field) went up against Commodore Heard of Houston, the oldest. “I don’t know how old he was then,” says Jones in his book ‘Down the Fairway.’ “But to me he seemed a lot older than I should like him now to think I thought he was, if you get what I mean.” Jones would go on to put his name on the Southern Amateur trophy three times – 1917, 1920, and 1922.

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