Golf’s efforts to grow the game will extend a little further south of the United States beginning in 2015.
The Latin America Amateur Championship will strive to promote the game throughout South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. The creation of the tournament was announced Wednesday morning in Buenos Aires by the Masters Tournament, the R&A and the U.S. Golf Association.
The inaugural tournament will be held Jan. 15-18 at Pilar Golf Club, located near Buenos Aires. The format will be 72 holes of stroke play with a field of 120 players made up of the region’s top male amateurs.
Hoping to emulate the success of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which began in 2009, the three founding partners are targeting the 27 IOC-recognized countries and territories in the Latin America region.
The winner will receive an invitation to the Masters, an exemption into the British Amateur and an exemption into the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA Amateur championship for which he is eligible.
The champion and runner-up will receive exemptions into final qualifying for both the British Open and U.S. Open.
With major champions Roberto de Vicenzo and Angel Cabrera, the 2009 Masters winner, hailing from the region, the game’s leaders see great potential in Latin America. Cabrera and fellow pro golfer Eduardo Romero attended Wednesday’s news conference along with several other dignitaries.
Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters, said some countries in the region have a rich history with golf and others do not.
“I think what we propose to bring to the table is opportunity and see where that opportunity, the way the kids react to it, see where that takes us, hoping for a result akin to what we have experienced in Asia,” Payne said.
With golf returning to the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, the game will get considerable attention in Latin America.
“I think it’s a happy coincidence starting this event in 2015,” said Peter Dawson, chief executive of The R&A. “It’s going to be a double boost for golf in this region.”
While there is a speculation that a test event will be held at the course in Brazil before the Olympics, Dawson said no decision has been made on the 2016 venue
for the Latin America Amateur.
“It’s one of several options being considered,” he said.
Payne said discussions about expanding to other geographical regions began a couple of years ago.
“So it’s been in the works, and I think just kind of a logical extension of ways that these three organizations feel we ought to be investing in the future of the game on a global basis,” Payne said.
Former Asia-Pacific Amateur champions Hideki Matsuyama and Tianlang Guan have both achieved success following their wins.
Matsuyama, who won the tournament in 2010 and 2011, has risen to No. 24 in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Guan, who was victorious in 2012, became the youngest Masters participant at age 14 and made the 36-hole cut at Augusta National last year.
Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, said the new event should boost interest in the game.
“When you think about elite competitive golf, whether it’s elite amateur golf or touring professionals, it has a way of growing the game,” Davis said. “Recreational players watch that, and it inspires them. And we think that will absolutely happen here.”
While the Masters prefers to keep its field size at no more than 100, Payne said the addition of the Latin American champion will “have no real impact.”
Plus, the U.S. Amateur Public Links will be discontinued after this year, removing one of the six slots traditionally reserved for amateurs at the Masters.
“We haven’t slotted it in exchange for any spot,” Payne said. “We’re wild and crazy about field size and we watch it like a hawk. You want exactly the right number. We’re going to figure out how to make it work no matter how many qualify.”
The collaboration from three of the major golf organizations is just the latest effort to grow the game.
This April, Augusta National will hold the inaugural Drive, Chip & Putt Championship for youngsters.
The Masters Tournament Foundation, USGA and PGA of America are partners in that initiative.
“I think importantly we’ve adopted, I believe, a better strategy in that we are all doing it together,” Payne said. “I think that portends well for the future and what we may be able to do down the road.”