The directors of the Southern Golf Association have opened the door to national and international amateurs, effective with the approaching 2003 tournament at the fabled Homestead in Virginia. The 97th championship, set for July 16-19, will be the first Southern Am in which the field is not limited to residents and students in the 14-state southern region.
One of the leading amateur events in the country, the Southern Amateur rotates among some of the South's most prestigious and challenging clubs. The 100-year anniversary championship was contested last summer at Atlanta's famed East Lake Club, the golf training ground for legendary Bobby Jones, who won the Southern Am three times. Other notable past winners include major champions Gay Brewer, Billy Joe Patton, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw, Bob Tway, Hubert Green, Mark Brooks and Justin Leonard.
Extending the eligibility worldwide should only enhance what has annually been one of the nation's best amateur fields for decades. Exempt invitations are being reduced to 60, while the remaining berths in the 156-player field are earned through local qualifying events. Entrants must have an established USGA handicap index of 3.4 or less.
The worldwide eligibility change applies also to the SGA's annual Southern Junior Amateur Championship, which will be played June 10-12 at Old Waverly Golf Club near West Point, Miss.
Said SGA Executive Secretary Buford McCarty: 'This has been in the works for several years in that we felt we want the championship to be less restricted. So now virtually anyone has the opportunity to play in the Southern Amateur. I feel sure the quality of the field this year will reflect those changes.'
Additionally, the SGA is seeking to raise the visibility of the tournament through a series of moves to be coordinated by nationally known golf journalist and author Larry Guest. The lead sports columnist for the Orlando Sentinel for 28 years until he recent retirement, Guest authored five books, including a bio of Arnold Palmer and a recent bestseller profiling the late Payne Stewart. He has been published in all of the leading national golf magazines and has won numerous awards for his golf stories and columns.
Guest, who joins the SGA as media liaison, hopes to use his network of golf contacts to gain the Southern Amateur increased print and electronic media exposure. Among other efforts to increase the tournament's visibility and allure to top amateurs, Guest also will explore the viability of a SGA National Amateur of the Month to honor special achievement by amateur players. The first of those year-round, monthly honors, which would be chosen by a blue-ribbon panel of college golf coaches, journalists and amateur golf officials, could be awarded as early as next month.
SGA President Joe Hackler, North Myrtle Beach, S.C., said of the new association with Guest: 'We felt that in the wake of major changes in our policies regarding participation, there was a need for a well-connected, knowledgeable, experience person to help spread the word and Larry is a perfect fit. We are excited to have Larry on board and look forward to better share the past, present and future activities of the SGA with the golfing community through his efforts.'
Said Guest: 'It's an honor to join such an august group dedicated to the highest ideals of amateur golf competition and have a role in a tournament with such rich tradition.'