Berkeley Hall set to host Players Am

Berkeley Hall

Bluffton golfers created one of country’s most prestigious amateur events

By Lance Hanlin, lhanlin@golfersguide.com

The idea of the Players Amateur came back in 1999 when Bluffton golfers Tom McKnight and Duke Delcher were traveling to the U.S. Amateur Championship in Pebble Beach, Calif.

“It was a long flight and we had plenty of time on our hands,” Delcher said. “That’s where the idea came from. We felt it would be a good way to give back to the game that has been so good to us.”

The plan wasn’t just to host another tournament. It was to host THE tournament, featuring the best amateur golfers in the country. To get that level of players to come to Bluffton, McKnight and Delcher simply dusted off the Rolodex.

“We knew all the players,” McKnight said. “We knew the Matt Kuchars, the Bryce Molders and all those guys from playing with them. We kind of twisted their arm and were like, ‘Look, you guys need to come.’”

And come they did.

Kuchar and Molder were both there. So was James Driscoll, D.J. Trahan and a slew of other players that later advanced to the PGA Tour. The tournament was won by Ben Curtis, three years before he won the British Open.

“It gave us instant credibility,” McKnight said. “We had that great field of players, right off the bat. Once they got here and saw how good things were, it didn’t take long. Everybody wanted to come.”

And come they have.

Bill Haas, Camilo Villegas, Kyle Stanley, Rickie Fowler, Bud Cauley, Lucas Glover, J.B. Holmes, Dustin Johnson, Troy Matteson, Johnson Wagner, Nick Watney and several other current top professionals have tested their mettle in Bluffton before finding fortune and fame.

The top amateur players will be on display once again this month when the 2012 Players Amateur returns July 9-15. For the first time, though, it won’t be played at Belfair Plantation. The 2012 event is moving just a couple of miles down Highway 278 to the South Course at Berkeley Hall Club, also located in Bluffton.

The South Course, designed by Tom Fazio, features Bermuda greens and is 7,160 yards from the championship tees. The course rating is 74.4 and the slope is 141.

“It’s one of the most prestigious amateur events in the country and we’re delighted to be hosting it,” said Adrian Morris, general manager and COO at Berkeley Hall Club. “I think we have the right facilities and the right golf course to pull it off and do a good job.”

The free event gives the public a chance to peek behind the gates of the private community, ranked “One of America’s 100 Premier Properties” by both Links magazine and Travel & Leisure Golf. One of the highlights of the club is its learning center, considered one of the top practice facilities in the world.

“It’s a great opportunity for the local community to see what Berkeley Hall is all about,” Morris said. “It’s a very special place.”

In 2004, McKnight and Delcher opted to give control of the Players Amateur to the Heritage Classic Foundation, the driving force behind the PGA Tour’s annual Heritage golf tournament on Hilton Head Island.

The foundation distributes all charitable funds generated from its tournaments, donating more than $22 million since 1987. The foundation also provides the winner of the Players Amateur a spot in the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage the following year.

Clemson University golfer Corbin Mills earned the honor last year, beating out 75 top-ranked amateurs from around the world. The 2012 field will be announced in the coming days.

Since the beginning, the tournament has prided itself on making it easy for the players, hence the name. There are no registration fees. Accommodations, food and beverages are also provided. Tournament director Steve Wilmot said his team will even take players back to the airport. The players just need to get here.

And just like the past 12 years, the best amateur players almost certainly will.

“You get to see tomorrow’s stars, today,” Wilmot said. “Just look at the list of winners. That’s all you need to say.”

THE 2012 PLAYERS AMATEUR
What: 2012 Players Amateur golf tournament (national event)
When: July 9-15
Where: South Course, Berkeley Hall Club, Bluffton
Schedule: Practice rounds July 9-10; Contestant-Amateur Tournament, 8:30 a.m., July 11; First Round, 7 a.m., July 12; Second Round, 7 a.m., July 13; Third Round, 7 a.m., July 14; Final Round, 7 a.m., July 15
Prizes: Players Amateur trophy; sponsors exemption into 2013 RBC Heritage, a PGA Tour event
Admission: Free
More information: www.playersam.com

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Since its inception in 2000, the Players Amateur has produced an impressive list of champions. Here is a look at what each is doing now:

2000 Champion: Ben Curtis
The first Players Amateur champion is best known for winning the 2003 British Open in his major debut. Since then, Curtis has established himself on the PGA Tour by winning the Booz Allen Classic in 2006, the 84 Lumber Classic in 2006 and the Velero Texas Open earlier this year.

2001 Champion: Michael Sims
After an impressive amateur career, the University of Rhode Island graduate turned professional in 2002 and played on the Tour de las Americas, the Canadian Tour, the New England Tour, the Hooters Tour and the Golden Bear Tour. The Southampton, Bermuda, native is now a regular on the Nationwide Tour.

2002 Champion: Bill Haas
Haas turned professional two years after his Players Am victory. He is now a regular on the PGA Tour and has won four tournaments – the 2010 Bob Hope Classic, the 2010 Viking Classic, the 2011 Tour Championship and the 2012 Northern Trust Open. He is the son of former PGA Tour player Jay Haas.

2003 Champion: Camilo Villegas
The Colombian is a household name on the PGA Tour, both for his play and his putting routine. To read a put, he crouches parallel to the ground, earning the nickname, “Hombre Arana.” PGA Tour wins include the 2008 BMW Champinship, the 20008 Tour Championship and the 2010 Honda Classic.

2004 Champion: Aron Price
Born in Sydney, Australia, Price turned professional in 2005 and played on the Nationwide Tour until 2008. He won the Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship that year and finished 18th on the money list, earning his PGA Tour card.

2005 Champion: Brian Harman
Harman followed up his Players Am victory by winning the Porter Cup, Georgia Amateur and Dogwood Invitational. He played on winning Walker Cup teams in 2005 and 2009, earned an eGolf Tour victory in 2010 and played in this year’s Players Championship.

2006 Champion: Jonathan Moore
Moore’s nice-guy personality won over the galleries here in 2006. He gained a lot more fans the following year when he dropped in an eagle on the 18th hole to give the U.S. the point needed to capture the Walker Cup. He is currently playing on the NGA Tour.

2007 Champion: Rickie Fowler
Fowler’s Players Am victory marked the start of his meteoric rise to the top of the sport. Wearing his trademark Okie State Orange, the 23-year-old posted his first PGA Tour victory earlier this year at Quail Hollow. Expect many more to come.

2008 Champion: Mark Anderson
Anderson followed up his Players Am victory by winning the 2009 Australian Master of the Amateurs. The Beaufort native joined the Nationwide Tour in 2010 and went on to record seven top 10 finishes before trading up for a PGA Tour card this year.

2009 Champion: Bud Cauley
Following his junior year at Alabama, Cauley decided to turn professional after qualifying for the 2011 U.S. Open. He did not miss a cut in his first four PGA Tour events, including a T4 at the Viking Classic.

2010 Champion: Kevin Tway
The son of PGA Tour veteran Bob Tway, Kevin is following in his father’s SoftsSpikes. He turned professional in 2011 after graduating from Oklahoma State. His pro debut was the 2011 Travelers Championship, with his father caddying for him.

2011 Champion: Corbin Mills
Mills was the No. 1 golfer as a junior on the Clemson team. His stroke average in final rounds of tournaments was 69.63, second-best in the nation. He played in two of golf's top events this year – the Masters and the RBC Heritage.

Other notable golfers have competed in the Players Amateur but didn’t win.
The list includes:
-- Lucas Glover: 2009 U.S. Open champ, 2011 Wells Fargo champ
-- J.B. Holmes: 2006, 2008 FBR Open champ
-- Dustin Johnson: 2010 BMW champ, 2011 Barclays champ
-- Matt Kuchar: 2002 Honda Classic champ, 2009 Turning Stone champ, 2010 Barclays champ, 2012 Players champ
-- Troy Matteson: 2006 Frys.com champ
-- D.J. Trahan: 2006 Southern Farm Bureau champ, 2008 Bobe Hope champ
-- Johnson Wagner: 2008 Houston Open champ, 2012 Sony Open champ
-- Nick Watney: 2007 Zurich Classic champ, 2009 Buick Invitational champ, 2011 WGC Cadillac champ, 2011 AT&T National champ

 

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