Augusta National, the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient announced on Wednesday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the creation of the Latin America Amateur Championship which will be played next January and, like the Asian Pacific Amateur, offer an exemption into the 2015 Masters for the champion.
Along with the Masters exemption, the champion of the event, which will be played at Pilar Golf in Argentina Jan. 15-18, will be exempted into the final stages of U.S. Open and Open Championship qualifying and earn spots in the Amateur Championship and U.S. Amateur. The runner-up will also be offered exemptions into the final stage of qualifying for the U.S. Open and Open Championship.
The move is an effort by golf’s three most influential organizations to grow the game in Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean and capitalize on golf’s inclusion into the 2016 Olympic Games which will be played in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“This is part of a wider Olympic legacy in Latin America,” said Peter Dawson, the Royal & Ancient’s chief executive. “We are hopeful this will be a double boost for the game in Latin America.”
The Latin America Amateur Championship will be modeled after the Asian Pacific Amateur, which was created in 2009 and produced one of last year’s most inspiring stories when Chinese teenager Guan Tianlang made the cut at the Masters.
“Peter and I have had discussions in extending the Asian Pacific Amateur into other regions and that happened before we saw the success of Guan Tianlang last year,” said Augusta National chairman Billy Payne. “It’s been in the works and kind of a logical extension of how we will be investing in the game in the future.”
The event will rotate to other courses in Latin America in the future and Dawson acknowledged that there is the possibility it could be played at the Olympic golf course in Rio prior to the 2016 Games. Olympic officials plan to play a “test event” at the Olympic course prior to the Games, but construction delays could keep that from happening.
“It’s certainly one of the options under consideration. It depends on the exact timing of the golf course construction project in Rio,” Dawson said.
The USGA does not exempt the winner of the Asian Pacific Amateur into the final stage of qualifying for the U.S. Open, or into the U.S. Amateur, but executive director Mike Davis said the growth of that event encouraged the association to become involved in the Latin America Amateur.
“The USGA has sat back like the rest of the golf world and thought how quickly that has become a great championship,” Davis said.
According to Payne, the Latin America Amateur will be largely funded by corporate sponsors but he did not rule out the possibility that Augusta National could lend financial support if needed.
“We all stand together fully prepared to underwrite whatever costs that aren’t covered by any sponsors. (But) we are in pretty good territory,” Payne said.
Entry into the event, which will be a 72-hole stroke play competition with a 36-hole cut, will be based on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, with the top two players from the 27 International Olympic Committee recognized countries and territories exempted into the field. The remainder of the field will be filled via the next highest players from the amateur rankings.