MYRTLE BEACH, SC — Dennis Peredo reached out on the River Club’s seventh tee and introduced himself and his extended team’s backstory.
“We’re a home band, we call ourselves ‘The Vicios’ — you know, drug addicts,” the Manassas, Va. resident said. “There are six of us here, we’ve never been there before. We play 36 players every day.”
This is “World Am” for you. They are drug addicts.
Golf courses across the country have filled up for Labor Day weekend, the last gasp of summer, but in Myrtle Beach, that golf rush starts a week early, when the PlayGolfMyrtleBeach. com World Amateur takes over the city with some 3,200 players from all 50 states and 15 countries.
It was the 39th edition of the “everyman’s major”, and there is nothing like it in sport. It’s competitive, festive, humid, sometimes combative and one hell of an advertisement for a close-knit golf mecca.
Four rounds, four days…maybe five
The workings of World Am (and everyone calls it that, in terms of the various title sponsors over the years) are as follows: you play four rounds in four days on four different courses, with shotgun starts at 8:30. (If you’re Peredo’s crew, you also squeeze in the afternoon; it’s not part of World Am but deserves a salute here given South Carolina’s late-summer climate.)
A $699 entry fee includes golf, prizes, a useful bag, and access to the “world’s 19th largest hole,” full of free food and drink (including the strong stuff if your turn doesn’t didn’t go so well).
This year’s field had 62 flights, from a gross of men and women to disabled flights to a “just for fun” group. The majority of players are male in their 50s and older, with dozens of flights split into players in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. More than 300 women also competed on six flights.
A total of 49 courses stretching from Pawleys Island south of Myrtle Beach to North Carolina were used for the event, including 31 reserved for the tournament’s four rounds. The steal winners (and ties) returned to TPC Myrtle Beach on Friday to determine the Am World Champion. This year’s winner was Terry Ream, a 63-year-old 3 handicap from Reno, Nevada, who shot 74 (net 71) in the final. And that’s rare – he was only the sixth single-digit handicap in the last 31 events to win. In the net format, anyone can win the World Am.
In theory, “anyone” could have included me, playing in the event for the first time with my shaky 10 handicap. But I haven’t played much this summer due to my day job ( you may have noticed an increase in professional golf news), so I spent as much time with a pen in my hand as I did with a putter.
It took the three holes of the first day to understand how dedicated these amateurs are. My lesson assignment was the Prestwick Country Club, a Pete and PB Dye joint held in high esteem by the locals. It was raining when I woke up, it was raining on the way to the course, and after the briefest of breaks on the first tee, it was raining from the second shot to our third green.
The aforementioned useful loot bag included a rain jacket and an umbrella, but these only go so far in a downpour. When thunder and lightning joined, everyone returned to the clubhouse. After half an hour of staring at the pool of water on the greens and everywhere else, I brought my soaking wet self back to the hotel.
Except when I got to my room, my playing partner Dan Murphy, a 36-year-old Torontonian, texted me, “They’re kicking us out.” I didn’t think it would be possible, even remotely, but the course staff were willing to give it a shot and, as I found out later that night on the leaderboard, 52 of the 53 players in my flight were also on board.
Oops. I had made a rookie mistake. Only six guys in a 9-12 handicap flight beat 90, and the rest of the week I heard more stories about how difficult that round was (“I used a ball catcher in the middle of a fairway,” one guy said, shaking his head), but the main thing was that people were playing. It’s the World Am.
Play hard, eat harder
I’ll spare you the details of the rest of my games (I played well), because who cares? Well, they do at the World Am nightly hangout, where “how did you play today?” is the icebreaker for a few thousand players and guests.
“The 19th Greatest Hole in the World” is the other hallmark of the event in addition to on-course action, as the Myrtle Beach Convention Center transforms for three hours each night into a massive club- house. Free food is provided by more than a dozen local restaurants (every night has a different theme, don’t miss BBQ night) and free drinks are everywhere, from sodas to beer to cocktails. And almost everyone leaves at the end with ice cream from Friendly’s.
Vendors, golf skill challenges, and other entertainment are all over the cavernous space. There are golf simulators, a 60ft putt challenge (the green is lined with tables so you can eat while watching people miss; if you hear cheers from across the convention center, that means someone made it) at a pool exhibition with pro Ewa Laurance, whose matches filled many hours on ESPN at the time. On the main stage, unofficial Myrtle Beach mayor and former Tour player Charlie Rymer holds court.
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The 19th hole isn’t a mandatory stop every night (it tends to be busiest on the first and last nights, when dozens of random gifts are awarded), but gives World Am its party reputation.
You never know what you’ll see, like a guy walking around in a LIV Golf t-shirt. Given my daily work, I had to talk to him.
“I thought it would be provocative to wear the first night I bought it online,” said Lowell Rhodes, a Myrtle Beach resident and guest of a World Am player. a recruiter.”
A call from the committee
In a hallway below the hustle and bustle of the 19th hole, the World Am tournament committee is available nightly to talk to players. This section is not about parties.
While the World Am has raw divisions, the heart of the event is disabled flights. Someone with Atlanta’s 18.4 handicap rating could be in a basket with Minnesota’s 17.9, with players of similar ability on the rest of the course. Everything is published, rules are closely followed, official scorecards exchanged and signed, and scores are online by late afternoon (and on TV screens all around the 19th hole, a nice touch) .
The committee is looking at the scores as they come in, and let’s just say an event this size doesn’t last 39 if this 18.4 from Atlanta shoots some 77 without anyone in the office noticing perceive.
Ryan Hart, the tournament coordinator, never uses the words “sandbagging” or “cheating”, and those wouldn’t even be applicable most of the time (the above assumption would be an extreme and unlikely case). Handicap indices can be unintentionally misrepresented and are often misunderstood (they represent the pinnacle of a person’s ability), but the committee holds them sacred. There is no other way.
After the third round, I hung out with Hart and his team as they reviewed the scores as they came in. Before the end of the afternoon, they disqualified 19 players for having shot too much below their index.
I played with one of them, an index 12 whose three turns had differentials of 12.3, 5.6 and 9.4. Without going into all the math, basically the last two rounds in a row was unlikely for his index, so he was removed from award eligibility and flight title (players can still complete the golf they paid for) .
“You played better than your best all three days, it defeats the purpose of calling him your best,” Hart said over the phone to another player who had been disqualified. “Your index is an inaccurate reflection of your best.”
This call ended cordially. Not all do. But each retired player is given the courtesy of a call, and then when the 19th hole opens up they are welcome to speak to the committee face to face. A policeman is sitting in the corner.
During an evening of a few hours, a woman came to plead the cause of her husband. Another player argued that he had played the two courses in town that best matched his game, hence his scores well below the index. Yet another was finally guided by the officer, after demanding reimbursement for the disqualification and promising a trial.
If Golf Channel ever wanted a new reality show, the World Am tournament committee rooms would be a good place to set up secret cameras.
The World Am started in 1984 and still exists as a driving force in tourism; at the time, few people visited Myrtle Beach the week before Labor Day weekend. Paul Himmelsbach, a local magazine editor and golf course owner, placed an ad in Golf Digest a few months before August 1984 announcing the event and attracted around 600 curious players that first year. A $175 entry fee secured a practice round, three tournament rounds, and food.
Over the years, organizers have received calls from other golf hotspots wanting to know how to organize a similar scale event in their city. But getting so many courses to participate and so many restaurants to supply food and handle the rest of the logistics is a year-round job, and nowhere else has an event as large and as enduring as the World Am .
Just ask any of the six guys who’ve been spending their evenings in the 19th hole VIP area this year, early World Am entrants who haven’t missed one yet.
Don Yelton, of Shelby, North Carolina, was 39 in 1984, saw this magazine ad and decided to come down. One of the courses he played, Gator Hole, now has a mall. But he remembered the barbecue dinner.
Paul Ciancanelli, of Little Demotte, Indiana, drove down in 1984 with his wife and a motor home. He is 73 years old and he won his flight two years ago.
The first six are all from different states, but come together for this meeting every year. And they’re not the only ones making it an annual trip; the average World Am player has six appearances so far.
I have one in the books. I’ll be back.