HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – GolfChannel.com spent a recent weekend with the Golf Channel Am Tour at the Palmetto Dunes Major Championships, where 163 amateur golfers in 10 flights navigated their way through the Jones and Hills courses at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort. If you’re not familiar with the Am Tour, here is your introduction. In fact, if you’re not playing the Am Tour, these are a few reasons why you should.
Feel like a pro
“This is my first-ever win,” the elated 11-handicapper told GolfChannel.com after capturing the Sarazen flight. “I’ve been close, but no cigar. It feels great to finally get a win.”
Each of the ten flight winners at Palmetto Dunes walked away with a Dick’s Sporting Goods gift card, a crystal trophy, and the priceless confidence boost that comes with beating the best players in your skill level.
In addition to the winnings, the stage on which these championships are conducted is equally impressive. The list of this year’s Am Tour Major host sites reads like a PGA Tour schedule, with current PGA Tour venues TPC San Antonio, PGA National, TPC Deere Run, Innisbrook and TPC Scottsdale on the Am Tour roster. Fittingly, this year's National Championships are staged at the famed Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass.
If all that isn’t enough to make you feel like a pro, know that in true PGA Tour fashion, each competitor’s name is announced as he or she is called to the 1st tee. It can be a nervous jolt of reality if you’re not used to playing tournament golf, but it’s the price you pay for playing on the same stage as the pros.
Family and work-friendly events
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If you tell your family you’re heading to South Carolina for a golf tournament next month, there’s a good chance you’ll get a roll of the eyes and a reminder that you were just at a golf tournament – even if you weren’t.
To make the family happy, consider bringing them with you. After all, most local and regional Am Tour events are at family-friendly resorts, and Palmetto Dunes on Hilton Head Island – the South Carolina vacation spot – is no exception.
In addition to three great golf courses, Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort has abundant beaches, bike trails, tennis courts, kayaking, fishing and shopping, which ensures your family will have plenty to do while you’re on the golf course.
“Bringing my wife with me is great because golf courses are the one place she doesn’t like to go, and malls are the one place I don’t like to go,” joked Jones flight winner Delbert Roberts, who made the 11-hour drive from Louisville, Ky. with his wife. “Turning these tournaments into three-or-four-day weekends is just easier.”
If it’s business that has you tied up, consider the Am Tour’s national footprint of more than 800 events in 33 states.
Have a Monday seminar in Dallas? What better way to clear your mind before the meeting than to fly in a day early and play an Am Tour event? Your annual membership allows you to play in as many events as you’d like, on any of the 61 local tours.
You never know who you’ll meet
While there is no official record kept for most accomplished golfer on the Am Tour, the nod undoubtedly goes to 71-year-old Don Allen, Rochester, N.Y., a seasoned amateur golfer who, in addition to the Palmetto Dunes Major, played in three Masters and four U.S. Opens. But don’t remind him about all that.
Recalling his experience at Palmetto Dunes, Allen laughed. “On the practice tee people came up to me and said, ‘I heard you played in the Masters!’ I told them, ‘Yeah, I did. Now can you please turn your back when I hit? That was during a different life.’”
Joking aside, Allen really did dominate amateur golf in the 1960s. In that span he won three of his 11 New York State Amateur titles, and was two shots out of a playoff at the 1966 U.S. Amateur at Merion. His performance in elite amateur events earned him a position on two Walker Cup teams.
“In the middle 60s I played at a pretty good level,” Allen recalls, “but when marriage and children came along I was one of those guys that had to work. I thought I could play all right, but I just didn’t want to get into all the other stuff.”
Instead of golf, the entrepreneurial Allen focused on his insurance business, which he still runs today in Rochester. He has a second home in Hilton Head Island, S.C., and learned of the Palmetto Dunes Major in the local paper. It was the first round of golf he’d played in five months.
“I went out there and hit a couple practice balls, and all the sudden I got called to the first tee and I was like, ‘Oh boy, here we go.’”
Allen was placed in the Championship flight, and although he finished 17th out of 20 golfers, none of that mattered to the grizzled vet.
“I was appreciative of the way I was treated by the staff out there, and I made some friends too. It was a really fun tournament all the way around.”
Fuel for your competitive fire
In speaking with flight winners after the Palmetto Dunes Major we found that above all, competition is what they enjoy most about the Am Tour.
“I joined the Am Tour because I wanted tournament experience, plain and simple,” said Championship flight winner Jonathan Bolen, Jacksonville, Fla. The +1.9-handicapper has aspirations to play professionally, and he values the experience he’s gaining by playing the Am Tour.
For others, a sort of competition within the competition is what motivates them.
Sal Minicozzi, Braselton, Ga., attributed his victory in the Senior Hogan flight to the motivation he receives from a group of friends from home that plays the Am Tour with him.
“A friend from my home club gathered a group and said, ‘Let’s play the Am Tour,’” Minicozzi said. “We play competitively at our home club too, but this is different, and it’s good. Out here you don’t have that level of comfort that we do at home.”
David Small, a former linebacker at Purdue University, is using the Am Tour to literally get his life back on track. In 2008, Small experienced life’s ultimate double-bogey when he suffered a massive heart attack during a kidney transplant operation. He says the Am Tour has allowed him to ease back into feeling the same competitive jitters he felt in his college football days.
“You can’t really understand competition until you get out there and actually compete,” Small said. “I played a sudden death playoff last year on the Am Tour, and when I gave one putt the Phil fist pump I sort of surprised myself. I’m usually more reserved than that.”
The Am Tour, it seems, has a unique way of connecting all types of golfers with a common bond: They just want to compete.