Dixie Amateur Highlight Of The Holidays

Until very recently, the Christmas holidays were once a dead period for competitive amateur golf. Juniors were busy playing, typically at the Orange Bowl and Doral tournaments. But for better playing amateurs, there were few opportunities.
That changed when the Patriot All- America was created in Arizona last year. It had a marvelous debut, and looks to be a needed and welcome addition to the elite amateur schedule. The tournament is an invitational schoolboy affair, and it is played in conjunction with the Folds of Honor Foundation.
On the east coast, the South Beach International also made a splendid debut last year. Played on two courses in Miami, the success of the inaugural event clearly demonstrated that there is ample demand for playing opportunities at this time of year.
However, the tournament that has the most history and diversity during the holiday season is the Dixie Amateur. Begun in the Miami area in 1924 and played continuously in South Florida since 1962, this tournament has had its fair share of prominent winners, including Lanny Wadkins, Hal Sutton and Brandt Snedeker. And it has become a wonderful mix of old and young, male and female.
Prior to 1990, the event moved around South Florida. That year, it was moved to the Bonaventure Resort and was played in December during the Christmas break. This allowed a greater number of col¬legiate golfers to participate and the strength of the field and the stature of the event grew substantially.
The tournament soon began to diversify, which solidified its identity. In 1997, a senior division was created for players 55 and older. This increased exposure and attracted a strong field of seniors. Steve Earsley won the inaugural event and repeated as 1998 champ. Veteran Florida competitor Rick Woulfe has won the senior title a record six times since its inception.
In 2002, the women’s division was added and has consistently attracted many of the finest female amateurs in the world. The inaugural women’s champion, Meaghan Francella, narrowly defeated future LPGA star Paula Creamer. The 2007 women’s champion, Lexi Thompson, became the youngest winner of an LPGA tournament in 2011 at age 16.
In 2009, the event created the addition of the first Senior Women’s Dixie Amateur Championship. Decorated ama¬teur Diane Lang has won all three editions of this event, giving this new division instant legitimacy.
In 2010, ClubLink, a Canadian golf course operator, acquired Heron Bay GC in Coral Springs, and the Dixie Amateur came with it. Several enhancements have followed in just two years as ClubLink has sought to upgrade the tournament.
Players in both the men’s and women’s divisions are guaranteed three competi¬tive rounds, meaning the cut for the men comes after 54 holes. The men play one round each at Heron Bay, the Oaks Course at Palm-Aire CC, and the West Course at the Woodlands Country Club. The final round is played at Heron Bay and consists of the low 72 players and ties. The winner receives great perks – an exemption into the Canadian Amateur as well as the British Amateur next summer.
The tournament series actually begins with the senior men teeing it up at Heron Bay in a 54-hole, no-cut tournament in mid-December. The four-round men’s event follows, and then the women’s division, played Dec. 31-Jan. 3, entirely at Heron Bay. The winner of the women’s division also earns a spot in the Canadian Women’s Amateur in 2013.
All of the courses used by the Dixie are owned by ClubLink. Heron Bay is the centerpiece, as it formerly hosted the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic. Designed by former PGA Tour player Mark McCumber, the course plays to more than 7,200 yards at par 72. It is best known for the vast num¬ber of bunkers on the course – 96 in all.
Curtis Thompson, older brother of Lexi and a member of the LSU golf team, will defend his 2011 title. The local hero shot 13-under-par 274 in front of family and friends last year just nine days after he turned 19. He and Lexi are the first brother-sister duo to win their respective titles.
Thompson, now ranked No. 155 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, recorded his first college win this fall when he co-me¬daled with teammate Stewart Jolly at the Shoal Creek Intercollegiate.
Back to defend his senior title will be Indiana’s Ron Carter, who won by a shot last year over his close friend Bob Stephens. Carter had to get up and down from a greenside bunker on the final hole to avoid a playoff with his fellow Hoosier.
Overseeing this complex golf tourna¬ment is one of the youngest tournament directors in America, Ben Derauf. Just 24, Derauf, a graduate of the Golf Academy of America, is the director of golf at Heron Bay. He and his team will orchestrate three distinct events with five total divisions involving 500-plus players over a three-week period. No small undertaking, particularly considering that Christmas and New Year’s occur in the middle of it all.
The gender and age diversity of the Dixie is a thing to behold. And perhaps it could be emulated by other savvy golf operators. Apparently in golf at this time of year, if you build it, they will come. Registration for all divisions closes Nov. 10.

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