MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
An attorney, a plumber and a radish farmer walk onto a golf course...along with 3,200 other people.
No, it’s not the start of a joke. It’s the start of the Myrtle Beach World Amateur, the biggest and possibly best golf tournament in the world.
With all due respect to professional golf’s major championships and the Ryder Cup, the World Am, as everyone calls it, is a major in a class by itself: competitive golf for the people. It is one of the great golf events in the world, period.
For 35 years running, people from all over the United States (49 states were represented this year) and the world (25 countries represented) descend on the place that rightly calls itself “Golftown, U.S.A.” for the last week of August. It’s a golf tournament, an equipment expo, a concert, a bar and a discotheque rolled into one.
It is a no-brainer bucket-list experience for any avid golfer.
To be clear, it is not a bucket-list experience only for competitive golfers.Whether or not you’re any good at this game and whether or not you consider yourself a competitive player, chances are you'll have a great time at the World Am no matter what.
Competitive golf for all
The true beauty of the World Am is that it is a choose-your-own-adventure golf tournament in perhaps the best choose-your-own-adventure golf destination on the planet. Myrtle Beach’s massive size means that there are golf courses, accommodations and off-course activities for buddies, couples, families with all kinds of budgets and tastes.
The World Am honors this diversity. Each of the dozens of flights (we had 66 this year) plays a pre-determined four-course rota for the main tournament rounds. Courses are spread out both geographically and quality-wise, so that everyone will play a couple of the top-tier courses as well as a couple courses from Myrtle Beach’s very deep bench. Course rotations change each year, too, so players who have been coming for a decade or more (there are hundreds) end up gradually being introduced to a large swath of the area in a guided, easy-to-understand way.
The freedom to enjoy the event in your own way doesn’t end there. Though the World Am is no doubt a golf tournament, different players will bring different levels of competitive fire with them. I played in the Gross Division (no handicaps, just straight stroke play), which carried World Amateur Golf Ranking points for the first time this year, but I was surprised when my Round 1 playing partners turned on some music for the round. They kept it to a moderate level and we all had a great time. It might not be a coincidence that I played my best round of the week under these laid-back conditions.
If you’re playing well, you can expect things to get more serious as the week continues, but the most pressure you’re likely to feel will come if you wake up with a chance to win your flight on Thursday.
Flight winners advance to the Championship Round on Friday, held in recent years at the Dye Club at Barefoot Resort. World Am organizers, led by Tournament Director Scott Tomasello, adjust handicaps across age, gender and handicap groups and the player with the best net score from Friday is crowned the overall World Amateur Champion. This year, Greg Williams of North Augusta, S.C., took the overall crown by shooting a net five-under par 67 at the Dye Club to win by two.
In a show of respect to the achievements of Day 5 players, Tomasello and his hard-working team set the Dye Club up to look like it’s hosting a PGA Tour event. A big scoreboard, pro-style signage and immaculate course conditions treat participants to a fun, memorable experience.
Of course, not everyone plays well at the World Am. A bad opening round or two can leave you out of contention, but there is plenty of reason to press on. The camaraderie and social aspects of the tournament arguably upstage the competitive side of it. Members of each flight run optional skins games all week, so even if you haven’t played up to your standards, one good shot or good hole can net you some pretty decent cash. In Flight 2, the lowest handicapped flight, skins on Thursday ($40 perp layer buy-in) were worth nearly $500. Other side games usually crop up within flights to keep things interesting. Regardless, plenty of beer and cocktails flow on the course and in the bar afterwards, keeping the mood convivial.
Then there’s the World’s Largest 19th Hole, a post-round party that runs every night of the tournament. Open bars dot the floor of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, and food stations ring the perimeter. A player and guest receive access to this celebration with entry to the event. Live entertainment, golf equipment and accessory exhibitors all add to the fun. In one corner, folks played cornhole on World Am logoed boards. In another, golfers stood elbow-to-elbow playing the popular Golden Tee arcade golf game. Elsewhere, social media celebrity golfer Paige Spiranac took selfies with adoring fans. So did Golf Channel’s Charlie Rymer, Damon Hack and Chantel McCabe.
Best of all, the World Am is affordable. The combination of the time of year (late summer is prime value season for golf in Myrtle Beach), sensible spread of courses, included food and drink and the desire by tournament organizers to recruit as many players as possible make the sub-$600 entry fee one of the great bargains in golf.
Finally, I tried to keep my ears open all week for funny and unusual anecdotes. After all, when you get more than 3,000 avid golfers together, there are going to be some stories. Two in particular – one great and one bizarre – stood out to me.
There must be something in the water in Greer
First, the uplifting one. I had the chance to play two of my rounds with Derrick Oyervides, a laid-back, 30-year-old newly married resident of the Greenville, South Carolina suburb of Greer. We both found ourselves in the lead group on Thursday at Grande Dunes Resort Club, where he put on the best display of driving the golf ball I have ever seen in competition (I faded from contention with a 77). Swinging without a hint of fear, he absolutely annihilated drive after drive, unleashing moon balls that faded five to ten yards reliably before plunging back down about 310 yards downrange. He shot a mostly effortless four-under par 68 before cruising to victory with a 74 on Day 5 (after 72 holes, the top three Gross Division participants make it to the final day).
But Derrick’s victory is only the start of the story. Derrick’s father, Rick, a gregarious and genial longtime lineman for Duke Energy, won his own flight as well. Topping that, two of their Greer-based friends, Dan Gaither and Kyle Coggins, won their own respective flights, rounding out a foursome of flight winners from the same small city of 25,000 people. What are the odds?
The moral of this story: if you want to hone your competitive golf game, move to Greer. But bring lots of money.
DQ – locked up
I heard this second-hand but was able to confirm with tournament officials. On Day 2, Flights 6 and 7 (mid-handicap men under 50) played Sandpiper Bay Golf Course in Calabash, North Carolina. One of the players, evidently frustrated by his first-round putting performance, stole a putter from the pro shop and aimed to use it during play. His misdeed did not go unnoticed. Course staff confronted the golfer, asking him to return the putter and apologize in order to settle the matter. He refused, and was arrested on the course. They had the idiot on video stealing the putter. That’s one way to get booted from a golf tournament.
The World Am is one of those events that is just plain great for the soul of golf and its players. It is a celebration of everything so many people love about this crazy game: friends, good times, tremendous value and the chance to tee it up with a little something on the line.