2003: Newsmakers - British Am change may not lure top amateurs

The British Amateur Championship’s recent change in dates avoids conflict with the NCAA Championship beginning in 2006, but now it will compete with one of the United States’ most prestigious amateur tournaments. And that may continue to keep top American amateurs at home.

In January, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews announced it would move the 2006 British Amateur to June 19-24 to avoid going up against the NCAA Championship, a move designed to attract top U.S. college players who previously decided against making the trip (Golfweek, Jan. 25).

The new date, however, conflicts with the Northeast Amateur, one of the highest-profile amateur events in the United States. So it remains unlikely that the best Americans will play the British Amateur. The 2006 Northeast Amateur, always held the week following the U.S. Open, will be played June 22-25 at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford, R.I.

“The Northeast Amateur has been around for a long time and the USGA puts it in high standard,” said Tim Jackson, the 1994 and 2001 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who never has played the British Amateur. “To not play in it (the Northeast), especially in a Walker Cup year, would not be good.”

Jackson typically attempts to qualify for the U.S. Open and says the British Amateur dates usually conflict with his preparations for U.S. Open sectional qualifying. Jackson did say he may attempt to qualify for the British Amateur in 2004 because it is not a Walker Cup year and the event will be played at St. Andrews.

“I don’t think I will notice much difference to our tournament from the date clash,” said Denny Glass, chairman of the Northeast Amateur. “Right now the best mid-amateurs do not travel to the British anyway, and yet we get about 26 mid-ams in our tournament who are the best in the country. So we’re not going to lose them. Plus I think we’ll still get the best college players, too.

“You might get a couple of guys going over there, but our tournament is ranked higher (by Golfweek) than the British right now and I don’t see that changing.”

The British Amateur winner receives automatic invitations to the British Open and the Masters, but Glass said he doesn’t think it’s enough to persuade players to skip the Northeast.

“It’s a very big carrot, but the whole hassle of going over there – the time, the cost, having to qualify – is such a big drawback that guys will see it is much easier to play here. We’re a stroke-play tournament for 80 players with no cut, so everybody is guaranteed four rounds. Whereas, if you travel to the British, then there is no guarantee you will qualify for the match-play rounds.”

Also, a trip overseas usually is a two-week commitment, one many players are not willing to make.

“If you win the Northeast Amateur, over here, it will probably carry more weight than winning the British Amateur, other than being able to play in the Masters,” said Casey Wittenberg, an 18-year-old high school senior who could face the decision in three years. “I can’t afford to kill two weeks in June to go over there.”

Glass seemed surprised that the R&A changed the dates without looking at possible conflicts with top American amateur events.

“I’m a little disappointed that they did not look into what it would clash with over here,” he said. “I’m surprised that they didn’t check into what they would be going up against.”

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