Since it opened in 2004, The Alotian Club in Roland, Ark., just outside of Little Rock, has been an ultra-private facility, one that generally has been closed to the public.
It has hosted a handful of special events and exhibitions, but has been by invitation only.
That, however, will change soon. In 2013, The Alotian Club will open its gates not only to some of the world’s best amateurs for competition, but for the first time the spectating public.
In a joint announcement Nov. 30, The Alotian Club and the Western Golf Association revealed that the 2013 Western Amateur, one of the world’s top-ranked amateur championships, will be played at this exclusive golf-only club.
“We’re very fortunate to be able to bring our world-class amateur championship to such a highly regarded facility,” said Vince Pellegrino, vice president of tournaments for the WGA, during a news conference at the club. “The Alotian Club has received accolades since the day it opened. We expect our field of top-ranked amateurs will be thrilled to have an opportunity to compete at such a prestigious course.”
Built by Little Rock businessman Warren Stephens and designed by architect Tom Fazio, the course measures 7,480 yards from the championship tees. Its signature trait is elevation change, with the most dramatic coming at the sixth hole, which features a 100-foot drop from tee to green.
“This will be the first one (open to public event) for us, and we’re excited about it,” said Dan Snider, chief operating officer at The Alotian Club. “It means a lot to us and especially to be tied in with such a great organization like the Western Golf Association and with one of the best amateur tournaments in the world.
“Because Mr. Stephens has very strong feelings toward amateur golf and has always stressed the importance of a caddie program, hosting the Western Amateur is just the right fit for us,” Snider said. “We think it will be a win-win situation for us as well as the WGA.”
The name of the exclusive club is derived from a group of wayfaring golf enthusiasts who set out to play the top courses in the United States. Their trips became known as the America’s Lights Out Tour, or ALOT. Over time, members of the group began calling themselves Alotians. The term “lights out” was their way of describing a player who was playing exceeding well.
At the 111th Western Amateur, The Alotian Club certainly will showcase amateurs who fall into that “lights out” category, as well as emphasizing the club’s support of caddies and the WGA’s Evans Scholars Foundation, which grants college scholarships to deserving caddies.
The Alotian Club has two Evans Scholars, brothers Joe and Kevin Evans. Joe is a junior and Kevin is a freshman, both at Northwestern University.
“Caddies are an integral part of the history and tradition of golf. That’s why I wanted a caddie program at The Alotian Club,” Stephens said. “Since 1930, the Chick Evans Scholarship program has sent 10,000 caddies to college. So the decision to host a first-class competition and support scholarships for caddies and welcome the Western Amateur to Arkansas was an easy one.”
The playing of the Western Amateur will mark back-to-back years in which Arkansas and the Little Rock area will host a top-tier amateur event. Chenal Country Club will serve as venue for the Southern Amateur, on July 18-21, 2012.
Also, the Western’s defending champion, Ethan Tracy, is a senior at the University of Arkansas.
Originally, the 2013 Western Amateur was scheduled to be played at Olympia Fields Country Club, south of Chicago, as part of an announced eight-year rotation of the championship among Chicago-area clubs. With The Alotian Club extending an invitation to host the Western Am, the WGA decided to shift the tournament out of the Chicago rotation in ’13.
Olympia Fields, a loyal partner with the WGA and its Evans Scholars Foundation, is hosting the U.S. Amateur in 2015, and the decision will allow club officials to focus primarily on course preparations and logistical planning for that national championship.
“We were honored and excited to learn The Alotian Club was interested in hosting one of our championships,” Pellegrino said. “We discussed a possible change with Olympia Fields officials, and we then made a joint decision to move the championship. We appreciate the club’s flexibility in agreeing to the move, which will allow us to broaden our reach and mission to other markets, particularly to a venue that also has been very supportive of our Evans Scholars program.”
From 1971 through 2008, the Western Amateur was held at Point O’Woods Golf and Country Club in Benton Harbor, Mich. It began its eight-year Chicago rotation in 2009. While in early years the WGA took the championship to various clubs around the country, the move to Arkansas in 2013 will mark the first time since Tom Kite won the title in 1970 at Wichita (Kan.) Country Club that the event will be played outside the Michigan/Illinois area.
The Western Amateur, first held in 1899, is considered one of golf’s most grueling and demanding tests at any level.
Competitors play two days (18 holes each) of stroke play before the field of more than 145 is cut to the low 44 scores and ties. Then there is one day of 36 stroke-play holes, with the low 16 advancing to match play. The next day includes the Sweet 16 and quarterfinal rounds, with the four remaining players moving on the next morning to the semifinals, which are followed that afternoon by the 18-hole championship final.