Every super hero needs a super villain. Where would Superman be without Lex Luthor? Where would Spiderman be without Doctor Octopus? Where would Dudley Do-right be without Snidely Whiplash? Without a foil to put the outcome in doubt, how can anyone be truly heroic? And because golf bloggers are, almost without exception, superheroes, I have acquired my own arch-nemesis. A foil so diabolical that not only does he thwart me at every turn, he does so in the most kung fu manner possible – turning my own fragile ego against me, casting my abilities in doubt, and taking my money in the bargain. I call him… Jon.
The friendliest nemesis ever
As arch-villains go, Jon is pretty tame. He doesn’t (as far as I know) have a scheme for world domination, plan to enslave mankind, or harbor any sort of grudge against the people of Earth. He’s a friendly, easygoing 18ish handicap who is always happy to buy a beer or do more than his share of the dirty jobs on a golf trip. The sort of guy that you’re always happy to have as part of your foursome. Until there’s a little blood in the water.
Ordinarily Jon and I shoot pretty similar scores, the USGA says I should be giving him 2 shots per side – he’s not about to ask and I’m not about to offer – but like many groups of golfing regulars ours sometimes likes to keep things interesting by putting some money down on the outcome. That’s when Jon’s diabolical plan becomes obvious. Jon just plays his game. While I fall apart faster than Tiger’s spinal column, Jon shoots about what he normally does, leaving me 4-5 shots behind him and usually 10 shots behind the score I shot just the week before, while Jon was away, and at the end of the day I’m opening my wallet and wondering how he does it.
At long last I think I’ve discovered his secret. Jon has been playing genuine tournament golf in the Central Carolina section of the GolfWeek Amateur Tour, and after losing enough to pay for yet another value meal (supersized, no less), I decided that I had to know if his secret weapon would work for me too. With the season winding down I was able to secure a press pass for the penultimate regular season event in the Central Carolina Tour at The Traditions Club at Chapel Ridge, so I bought a box of my pill of choice, cleaned up my gear, tried to clean up my language, and set out to see what all of the fuss was about. Before I ventured into the white-hot cauldron of competition, though, I thought it would be a good idea to find out what I was getting myself into.
This is what I was getting myself into
The GolfWeek Amateur Tour is a national tour, started in 1995 with the idea of giving average joes the chance to compete in a nationwide series of stroke play tournaments. Flights range from the all-scratch-all-the-time Championship down to the “Now that I’ve broken 90 I’m halfway to the PGA Tour” D flight (19+ index). Thanks to a pretty good summer and the unwise decision to begin submitting my scores for a USGA handicap index right in the middle of the best run of golf I’ve ever played, your humble scribe rode into battle as a competitor in the C flight (14-18.9 index). If you don’t have a formal handicap have no fear, your section organizer, in this case Bruce Hallenbeck of the Central Carolina Tour, will be happy to talk to you about where and how you’ve played and find the right flight for you. Regardless of what flight you’re in, be ready for some real competition. In a phone interview with Bruce, he cautioned me that while everyone is out to have fun and unsportsmanlike conduct isn’t tolerated, everyone is playing to win. “You’re going to be on the tee with four guys that want to stomp your face in” he warned.
Bruce Hallenbeck, he’s like Don King only with golf
Forewarned is forearmed, and I decided that since I’d seen the course at Chapel Ridge exactly once before, during a scramble, where many beverages of an adult nature were consumed, I should take advantage of the GolfWeek Amateur Tour’s arrangement allowing members (and the press) to play practice rounds the week prior to the tournament. Chapel Ridge is a semi-public course, but over the season the Central Carolina Tour stops at some ritzy courses, and being a member of the tour (and registered for that week’s event) will get you the chance to play courses that are usually available only with to members. Unfortunately family obligations and poor organizational skills prevented that, so I bought a yardage book in the pro shop and hoped for the best.
Fortunately Bruce is way more organized than I am, and had things running like a Swiss watch when I arrived on tournament day. Competitors were greeted with a sign in table where we checked in, paid for the optional skins game, and were directed to our carts. Foursomes were already set, carts and starting holes assigned, and personalized scorecards affixed, leaving me to strap my bag in and try to settle my nerves on the range.
Me and 59 other guys. Skill levels varied.
Warm ups were friendly but serious. If it isn’t the range at a PGA TOUR stop, the GolfWeek Amateur Tour isn’t the hit-and-giggle you might imagine if you’ve never played tournament golf. The large contingent of regulars chatted briefly, but earnest focus was the order of the day up and down the line. Despite the late season spot in the Central Carolina Tour schedule and the iffy weather having pared the field to a bit more than 60 it was cheek-by-jowl on the putting green as everyone tried to dial in their speeds and reads. The top points earners from each flight in the local tours earn berths in the GolfWeek Amateur Tour National Championship, played every October in Myrtle Beach, and with only the sectional championships remaining to score points, more than a few “bubble” players were hoping to punch their ticket to the 4-day National Championships. Bruce tells me that the early season events frequently fill up with 90+ players – I can only imagine what it’s like trying to find a quiet corner to putt in those circumstances.
Shortly before the scheduled 1pm start, another anomaly on the tour, where most events start at 9am, Bruce called us all in for a quick rehash of the rules, along with the announcement that due to the weather we’d be playing lift, clean, and place everywhere. And with that, we were off. The shotgun start put our foursome on number 11 to open, and after brief introductions and a couple of quick photos we were away.
Just looking for a place to putt…
As much as I’d like to regale you with a shot-by-shot recounting of my round, for the first time in a long time my entire round is a bit of a blur. I remember being relieved that my opening drive found the fairway, disgust at bumping up against the mandatory triple bogey max rule three times in the first five holes, nerves as my fellow competitors stood on the green, waiting for me to join them from 100 yards away, and a 10-15 minute rain delay when it was coming down sideways. My fellow competitors were great to play with. Everyone was grinding over every shot, but stayed cheerful and the competition was friendly, even when we were pulling out the rule book because we couldn’t agree on how many club lengths to use for a drop (rule of thumb kids: if it’s free you get one club, if it’s costing you a penalty stroke you get two).
I think I found the fairway on this one…
As we ground our way into the home stretch it was apparent that our D flight players were in contention, while my fellow C flighter and I were laser-focused on avoiding bringing up the rear. In the end our D flighters finished 1-2, and my C compatriot and I finished in the middle of the pack, thus achieving my goal of not finishing dead last.
The weather and our position as one of the last groups in meant that only a small contingent remained in the clubhouse to await the ceremony, but Bruce was a man in his element as he proved to be a masterful MC, moving things along while giving the winners their due. My lone birdie of the day would have stood if I’d bought in to the skins game, a fact that Bruce was quick to point out to the assembled masses. Lesson learned for next time.
Bruce realizing that yours truly just left enough on the table to cover losing to Jon
And there will definitely be a next time. I don’t know if I’ve found the secret to making Jon pay for my Bojangles addiction, but I do know that playing a GolfWeek Amateur Tour event was some of the best fun I’ve ever had on a golf course (and probably the best fun I’ve had not drinking on a golf course.) The season is winding down now, with only the national championships in Myrtle Beach, where the top points winners from each flight on each local tour section will face off over four days on some seriously tough courses, remaining to be played. But most local the GolfWeek Amateur Tour sections will begin the 2016 season in January, and I’ll be among the first in line to hand over my money.
What you need to know: The GolfWeek Amateur Tour at a glance
Where do they play the GolfWeek Amateur Tour?
The GolfWeek Amateur Tour is a national series with local tours nearly everywhere. The Central Carolina Tour plays from Pinehurst to Pittsboro, with most tournaments within an hour’s drive of the Triangle and Triad.
Who can play the GolfWeek Amateur Tour?
Pretty much anyone. The tour is open to golfers of all ages and abilities. There’s even a Senior Amateur Tour for the guys who like to play from the front tees.
How much does the the GolfWeek Amateur Tour cost?
Tour membership is required to play and varies by region. 2016 costs haven’t been set, but Central Carolina Tour membership is usually around $95. Entry fees vary from $65-$200+ depending on the region. Central Carolina Tour events run from $70-$90 for regular events, and $155 for the two-day Central Carolina Tour Championship.
Are there prizes?
Every flight winner gets a trophy, and there are prizes for up to the first three places in each flight depending on the size of the field. For legal reasons these are usually paid as gift cards. There’s also a skins game that plays across flights. Birdie or better can put a little money in your pocket.
The top 10 in points from the Championship and D flights, and the top 15 in the A, B, and C flights in each section nation wide are eligible to compete in the National Champtionship in Myrtle Beach, a 4-day slugfest among over 800 tour members from around the country that crowns the GolfWeek Amateur Tour National Champions.
What else do I need to know about the the GolfWeek Amateur Tour?
Brush up on your golf etiquette – this is real competition and you don’t want to be “that guy.” If you regularly play with strangers and get invited back, you’re fine. If not, ask yourself why.
Know the rules of golf. You don’t have to understand the logic behind decision 23/10, but you should know how to take both free and penalty drops and be able to identify the different types of hazards. There are about a million ways to get a copy of the Rules of Golf. Go ahead and get one.
How do I sign up for the the GolfWeek Amatuer Tour?
You can get more information, find your local tour, and sign up at the GolfWeek Amateur Tour website.