It wasn’t that long ago that the Regions Bank Amateur Series was thriving and the future was bright. Tournaments were drawing 80 and 90 players and the Augusta City Amateur – the most popular one – had 160.
“I remember if you didn’t sign up early you couldn’t get in that one (the Augusta City Amateur) or the Golf Capital,” said North Augusta’s Jeff Pope, who is the top regular division player these days. “We used to get a good bit of play on both state levels. It was more than just a local series. We had guys from Atlanta and Columbia.”
Those days are over. Since about 2007, the participation numbers have been dropping each year.
So far this year, the fields have numbered 51, 21 and 32.
The lack of participation, especially in the regular (under 50) division has led to a lot of head scratching as to why this is happening. After all, it is a great concept that had worked well from its inception 1988.
The idea of the series, which has tournaments split between Georgia and South Carolina courses in the area, is that players earn points for top 20 finishes in each event. At the end of the season, the top regular and senior division players from each state square off the two-day Regions Cup Matches.
The way this year has gone, it won’t be too difficult to qualify for those matches.
So,what has happened to the players? Some possible reasons are:
• Too many tournaments, which run from late April to late August. When the series started in 1988, there were five tournaments. Now there are 10, and they aren’t spaced out as well as they could be.
• The tournaments are too expensive. For a 36-hole tournament (the city amateur is the only 54-holer), the entry fee is between $110 and $150.
“I think money is an issue,” Pope said. “Years ago, you paid for almost the equivalent of green fees (with the entry fee). You didn’t pay a whole lot more, or any, than you would just to play two rounds of golf somewhere. Back then it was 70 or 80 dollars and now it’s any were from 110 to 150. For the younger guys, it’s a lot to come up another couple hundred to play in a couple other tournaments.”
• Lack of interest among younger golfers. There is no question this is happening. The senior division has continued to be strong as the regular division golfers “age out” and become seniors at age 50. But they aren’t being replaced in the regular division. At one tournament this year, there were seven players in the regular division. At another there were 14. And the youngest golfer in that event was 34-year-old Harold Bishop.
“I’m not young; I’m middle-aged,” Bishop said when told he was the youngest player in the field.
Foss, a former Midland Valley pro who was once the Regions Bank Amateur Series executive director, remembers when there are 20 to 25 high schoolers playing in the events. There usually aren’t any now.
The cost of the events has something to do with younger golfers not playing, not to mention the fact fewer are interested in the game.
“Junior golf is picking up,” said Tommy Carpenter who won last weekend’s senior division in the North Augusta Exchange Club/Perisimmon Hill Classic. “There could have been a lull. I see a lot of teenagers starting to play golf again.”
• The word isn’t getting out. Yes, the schedule wasn’t completed until the last minute this season and that was a problem. But the same courses play host to events each year and all it takes it a phone call to check the dates. The Augusta Chronicle does publish the schedule each week, but perhaps Regions Bank, the series sponsor, could advertise the schedule. And it wouldn’t hurt if some of the courses promoted their tournaments better.
“I know a lot of people say ‘congratulations’ when I win a tournament and then say they didn’t even know there was a tournament,” Pope said.
Said Foss: “There is not a whole lot of advertising. There used to be flyers all over the clubs about the upcoming tournaments.”
At the rate it is going, the series might turn into an all-senior circuit. Already, the Sunbelt Nissan Golf Capital Invitational, which was discontinued after the event this year, is talking about returning in a senior format in 2014.
Plus, who knows how long Regions Bank will continue to sponsor the series if the number continue to drop. Regions doesn’t interfere with the running of each tournament, but pays for the two-day Regions Cup Matches at the end of the season.
Foss said if the sponsor is lost and there aren’t matches at the end of the year, it would led to even less participation and some tournaments would go under.
Not many areas have an amateur series like the Regions Bank Amateur Series. Over the years, out-of-town golfers who have come to play commented on how lucky we are to have it.
“I would be disappointed (if the series was discontinued,” said Pope, who has 11 career victories.
If the series dies, there will be a lot of golfers who will regret not supporting it when they had the chance. Sometimes you don’t miss something until it’s gone.