We’ve been out of touch for a little while, and that’s because I was out playing golf! I recently took a road trip to the Poconos in Northeast Pennsylvania for the 2015 World Amateur Golfers Tour (WAGT) National Championship.
The National Championship
The event was held at the historic Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort, located on the banks of the Delaware River. This wonderful facility dates back to 1911 and features 27 holes designed by legendary golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast who’s design career started at Shawnee Inn. The three nines were his first course designs in a list of courses that includes Baltusrol, Bethpage Black, Winged Foot, Newport CC and many more. His designs have hosted over a dozen major championships.
The World Amateur Golfers Tour was founded in 1995 by Sven Tumba, a Swedish ice-hockey and soccer star, as well as avid golfer. The tour has expanded to 40 countries and is the world’s largest amateur golf championship.
National championships are held in all participating countries in a handicapped, flighted stroke play format. Winners from each flight are automatically qualified to represent their country at the World Championships. This year, the World Championships will be contested in Turkey at the Gloria Golf Resort in Belek, Antalya. Participants from all over the world will be competing against golfers of similar ability for the big prize.
Players are broken down into flights based on handicap. The flights are: 0 – 5.4, 5.5 – 10.4, 10.5 – 15.4, 15.5 – 20.4 and 20.5 – 25.4. This year’s tournament format is 54 holes of stroke play. There are three days of practice rounds also in which players will compete in three separate one-day stableford games.
I was fortunate enough to advance out of qualifying at Mission Inn Resort in Florida back in May with an even par 72. That got me in to the National championship. I drove up to Shawnee Inn on Tuesday and arrived Wednesday morning. I jumped out of the car and almost immediately onto the first tee for a practice round on the white/blue course. In perhaps a sign of things to come, I made a hole-in-one on the 186 yard par 3 fourth hole.
The tournament started at 7:20am Thursday morning on Shawnee Inn’s Red/Blue course in some light fog and 50 degree temperatures. I went into the event with a +2 handicap. I knew I would have to play well giving 2 extra shots to everyone in my flight. I was honored to hit the first shot of the tournament, and promptly pushed a three-wood into the right rough. The course was challenging due to the cold temperatures, wet rough and tournament pins tucked into corners and behind bunkers, but I managed to make a few birdies and shot 74 to start.
The second round was played at a great Jack Nicklaus design called Great Bear Golf Club. The course is expertly laid out to make good use of natural landscape and elevation, and the design was a real joy to play. I struggled mightily with the putter to start, with bogeys on three of the first four, but rallied with a birdie on number seven for an opening nine score of 38. I again struggled on the back nine with four consecutive bogeys before coming back to birdie three of the final four holes to post another 74. I took 35 putts in round two.
That evening I put in about 90 minutes of work on the putting green to get the flat stick going again. The extra practice paid off. The final round was contested on the Shawnee Inn white/blue course and I opened with three birdies in the first six holes to jump ahead of my competitors. Going into the 16th hole I had no idea where I stood, but the change in mood from one of my adversaries told me it was close, as he was starting to take more time, take deep breaths and seemed more on edge.
We both played shaky golf on the final three holes. I made three bogies to finish with a third consecutive 74 (net 76) while he made two bogeys and a double. Had the competition been a gross stroke play event I would have won by 22 shots, but handicaps have a way of evening the playing field, and that certainly was the case this week. The double bogey on the 17th hole turned out to be the difference as I won by a single shot (net). I posted 10 birdies for the week despite my struggles on the greens, so I’m optimistic I can get it going on time for the world championships!
As the national champion in flight 1, I’ll join my fellow champions in flights 2-5 for the world championships in Turkey. There are also several other tour members joining us oversees for the WAGT Invitational Tournament. As part of Team USA we will each receive airfare, hotel, food & drink as well as being dressed head to toe and getting a custom Team USA staff bag. I’ll be posting updates, photos and blog entries during the week while in Turkey.
To get more information about the WAGT and to participate for a chance to represent your country, go to http://www.wgatusa.com/ in the US, or http://worldgolfers.com/ for information on international tours in your country. Maybe we’ll be teeing it up together next year!