SPEARHEADED BY PRESIDENT DENNIS MCCORMAC, GOLFWEEK AMATEUR CONTINUES GROWTH AS A COMPETITIVE TOUR
When John Robinson’s regular Saturday golf group all but dissolved because several members joined the Golfweek Amateur Tour, Robinson reluctantly followed despite reservations about playing the game he loved in a competitive environment.
“I don’t know if scared is the right word,” said Robinson, a former tennis pro turned real estate agent. “But I was a little nervous to put my game out there and let people I didn’t know see how bad I was.”
When he finally mustered the nerve to give it a shot, Robinson entered an event at the Country Club of Hilton Head, and his handicap landed him in the C flight with like-skilled players.
He won the flight.
“At that moment I was absolutely hooked with the tour,” he said.
That was 2013, and Robinson rarely misses a tournament on the Hilton Head-Savannah circuit. He often tries to enter events on one of the 48 other local Golfweek Amateur Tour chapters around the country.
The Golfweek Amateur Tour was the brainchild of Dennis McCormac, who in 1995 launched a local golf league in Charlotte and dreamed it might grow to include upwards of 100 players. His twist: Use players’ handicaps to set up a flight system, then discard them and settle it on the course.
“I played golf competitively and I knew there were plenty of guys out there who wanted to compete again, but the only thing they could get in was net tournaments, and you know what happens there,” McCormac said, referring to the practice of overreporting, or “sandbagging,” one’s handicap to get an edge on the field. “With five flights, you’re usually within two or three strokes with anyone playing in your flight, so you feel like you’ve got a chance every Saturday.”
He wasn’t counting on how many casual golfers had the urge to test their game under competitive conditions. Or the internet.
Word spread through the Carolinas, and McCormac soon added tours in the Upstate and Triad regions, and when he went online, things escalated quickly.
In 2022, the Golfweek Amateur Tour and the spinoff Senior Amateur Tour held a combined 1,128 events nationwide, and this year McCormac, who moved his base to Hilton Head full-time in 2016, estimates the tours will have a combined 8,800 returning members across 49 Golfweek Amateur Tour and 29 Senior Amateur Tour chapters with the potential to reach 10,000 this year or next.
“Over the last 10 to 15 years we’ve seen about 5 to 10 percent growth every year,” McCormac said. “We never really saw a hiccup.”
In fact, membership spiked 15 percent during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when golf was viewed as one of the few sports that could be enjoyed safely. Things leveled off a bit last year, but McCormac is confident the uniqueness of the tour and the exceptional player experience will continue to attract new golfers.
The national championship brings nearly 1,000 golfers who finish atop their local standings to Hilton Head each October for a season-ending bash.
The field is separated into five flights based on players’ handicaps, ranging from 0-3.9 for the championship flight to 19 and above for D flight, allowing everyone to ostensibly have a shot at hoisting a trophy and pocketing a paycheck.
“The greatest thing for me is the camaraderie, but the other thing for me is the challenge of competing,” Robinson said. “I play golf to see how good I can be. I’m never going to be a great player, but I want to see how good I can be, and I think this tour is a great avenue to make yourself as good as you possibly can.”
McCormac knew there were enough casual golfers with a competitive spirit to make the tour fly, but he didn’t realize the tour had a secret weapon.
“The thing I never saw that was going to happen is the friendships and camaraderie between these guys,” McCormac said. “Just last weekend they had a four-city Ryder Cup in Myrtle Beach and guys drove in from Tidewater (Va.) and Charleston and D.C., and I mean, just as soon as the season was over. There’s all kinds of other tours that have Ryder Cup-type events in the offseason or they have some type of tournament within the tournament because they become such good friends and like to compete against each other.”
The 2023 tour begins Jan. 7-8 with the Icebreaker at the Robert Trent Jones Course at Palmetto Dunes and Harbour Town Golf Links. For more information, visit amateurgolftour.net
BY JUSTIN JARRETT | PHOTOS BY RUTHE RITTERBECK