Two South Florida events to go head-to-head

Peter Uihlein during the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur.

Peter Uihlein during the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur.

Can two tournaments, both appealing to the same high-caliber amateur, succeed only miles apart and with overlapping dates?

This December, two events -- one a year-end mainstay for nearly a century, the other a start-up -- will go head-to-head the week before Christmas in South Florida.

The 81st Dixie Amateur will be played Dec. 19-22 at Heron Bay Golf Club in Coral Springs and Woodlands Country Club in nearby Tamarac. Meanwhile, the South Beach International Amateur will debut Dec. 20-23 at Miami Beach Golf Club and Normandy Shores Golf Club on Miami Beach.

Their goals are ambitious and perhaps mutually exclusive: attract 240 of the world’s best amateurs. Of course, those 240 can’t be in two places at once, even if separated by only about 35 miles of Florida’s Turnpike.

Something has to give.

“I hope we both fill our fields, but that, of course, remains to be seen,” said Dave Salerno, tournament director of the Dixie Amateur and general manager and director of golf at Heron Bay.

“South Florida is a great area for golf, so we’ll see,” said Jeff Hunt, executive director for the South Beach International. As the Dixie’s tournament director, he helped elevate that event to the 12th-best amateur event in the world, based on strength of field.

This year, Heron Bay, former home to the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic, and Woodlands were bought by ClubLink, which also took ownership of the Dixie. However, the ownership transfer took longer than anticipated, Hunt and Salerno said, leaving the Dixie’s status uncertain.

Hunt, eager to keep a top amateur event in South Florida, began his push for the South Beach International Amateur. He landed renowned instructor Jim McLean and Johnny La Ponzina, a South Florida PGA past president, as co-chairmen. With the support of the host clubs and other Miami Beach businesses, the South Beach event launched.

“At one point, we weren’t even sure there was going to be a Dixie and then later heard they were going to move their dates,” Hunt said. “Obviously they didn’t, but by that time, we already had set our dates.”

Peter Uihlein, the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion, won’t return to the Dixie as two-time defending champion.

“It’s been a busy year, and I decided to take that time to rest and spend time with family,” said Uihlein, a senior at Oklahoma State.

“I guess only time will tell if the two can make it. The Dixie has been around for a long time, so it has a lot of tradition. We’ll just have to see. A lot will depend on who Jeff can recruit for his tournament.”

Hunt has big dreams for the South Beach International Amateur.

“My goal is to have one of the top 25 fields in the world within the next few years,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to be in the top 10 of world amateur tournaments.”

And perhaps even No. 1 in South Florida.

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