CALI, COLOMBIA | It has been a long time since I have taken a flight to play in a golf tournament – over 14 years – and I would certainly not consider myself a tournament golfer anymore. So, imagine my trepidation of the 20 hours of travel time from my home in St Andrews to Cali, Colombia.
The tournament was the South American Amateur, held two weeks ago at Club Campestre Farallones Individual. This was the seventh, so it is a relatively new event in the world of amateur golf. However, it’s an event with grand plans and ambitions, thanks to generous support from the R&A which have pledged £28,000 per year over the next three years to help grow the event to one of the premier amateur events around the world. The event will be held in Colombia for three years and then possibly move to Argentina or Ecuador.
The R&A have supported various golf events in South America for the past 10 years, most notably the Copa los Andes, a team event among nine South American nations which has been going since 1944 and supported by the R&A since 2002.
“The Copa los Andes is a tremendously competitive and enjoyable event for players, officials and spectators, and one which we’re proud to support,” said R&A Director of Golf Development Duncan Weir. “The standard of golf amongst the smaller golfing nations continues to improve, and now there is more of a challenge posed to the traditionally dominant countries than ever before.”
Since 2002, the R&A have supported the Copa los Andes somewhere in the region of £400,000. The 2002 competition proved to be the catalyst for further R&A involvement on the continent, and now each of the South American Golf Federation’s (SAGF) championships receive financial backing. Every country has also benefited from coaching initiatives and equipment.
Weir believes that the South American Amateur has the potential to become one of the premier amateur events on the globe. “It is not unlikely that one day the South American Amateur champion could receive an invitation to a major like the European, Asian, U.S. Amateur and the Amateur champions do.”
This was the first year that the tournament was open to golfers from Europe and North America under the encouragement of the R&A. Players from Canada, England and Scotland were on hand. All the Home Nations were encouraged to provide a male and female player to participate but sadly, only Scotland and England managed to do so, with Wales and Ireland citing difficulties with the date of the event.
The busy Amateur schedule is a problem both the R&A and SAGF want to address and are currently looking for a date in January that will allow for the top European and U.S. college players to attend.
“By moving the event to January, we hope not to conflict with any other tournaments around the world,” said Rafael Enrique Otero, secretary of the SAGF.
More international events on the calendar is better for the amateur game and especially the R&A’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) system. Graeme Robertson, who represented Scotland in the tournament, agrees.
“There needs to be events where the world’s elite play against each other. Currently, the system looks a little biased toward the U.S. college system; it is too easy for them to get points.”
It’s true the only way for the WAGR system to be a true reflection of who the best amateur golfers in the world are is for the best to play against each other. And for that to happen, there needs to be more global golf events.
The R&A do a great job with the WAGR system. But the truth is that it’s nearly impossible to come up with a definitive formula to determine who the best player on the planet is. However, there are a few flaws in the current system. Just look at the most recent Walker Cup in Aberdeen and how much of an upset the GB&I’s win was on paper. Give me a break. I know it was played over a links course that blew an Aberdonian “Hoolie” for two days but there is no way that the GB&I win was such a surprise, or that they should warrant such a lowly world ranking compared with their American counterparts.
That said, this year the South American Amateur was dominated by the Argentinean duo of Jorge Fernandez and Delfina Acosta. Both were among the favorites, according to the WAGR system, winning the male and female events by three and one shot, respectively. The Scottish duo of Graeme Robertson and Jane Turner were the top non-South Americans, both finishing in seventh place in their respective events.
As for how I did, let’s just say I enjoyed the warm Colombian hospitality and climate. I didn’t finish first and I didn’t finish last, and hope to receive an invitation back next year.