Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the August 21 digital issue of Golfweek
The boys’ and girls’ British amateur championships were settled this weekend. For the record, Portugal’s Pedro Lencart and England’s Lily May Humphreys took the respective titles.
Good luck finding news stories on either championship. Except for the magazine you’re reading and a few other outlets, amateur golf doesn’t seem to get many column inches these days.
That’s something we should all mourn.
I was one of two journalists who covered this year’s British Amateur Championship at Royal St George’s. I still find that hard to believe.
I covered my first British Amateur in 1994. Lee James defeated Scotland’s Gordon Sherry at Nairn. Every major British newspaper sent its full-time golf writer. Not only did the main golf writers in those days cover the British Amateur, they traveled to the Boys Amateur, too. Many also covered the Girls Championship.
How times have changed.
Defending champion Falko Hanisch lost to Lencart 5 and 4 at Nairn. Hanisch was bidding to become the first to defend his title since James Lindsay in 1930.
Humphreys beat Norway’s Emilie Overas 7 and 5 at Enville Golf Club in Staffordshire, England. The 15-year-old gains an exemption into final qualifying for next year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Lack of coverage isn’t the fault of the golf writers at British newspapers. Far from it. Most would love to cover more amateur tournaments, but must do the bidding of sports editors who seem obsessed with Premiership football.
The Times of London doesn’t even have a full-time golf writer at the moment – I remember when the Times had three. And this is the paper Bernard Darwin wrote for.
The Telegraph had two golf writers, with Bill Meredith devoted to covering the amateur game. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the players. In fact, when England’s Nick Dougherty turned professional, he went out of his way to thank Meredith for all the coverage through junior and amateur golf.
It’s not just national newspapers that have practically given up on the amateur game – regional newspapers have fallen aside, as well. The local writers knew their beat and were given lots of column inches to write about up-and-coming players.
Falling circulations followed by subsequent lower advertising revenue obviously have played a huge part in the absence of journalists seen as peripheral. The rate with which amateur golfers turn professional doesn’t help – having no constant figure on which to focus on makes it hard for newspapers to maintain interest in the amateur game.
There were quite a few career amateurs when I started my golf-writing career. Two-time British Amateur champion Peter McEvoy was still playing. Gary Wolstenholme was winning British Amateur titles. Nigel Edwards was another recognizable figure striding the fairways – he played in four Walker Cups before captaining Great Britain & Ireland three times. Padraig Harrington played in three Walker Cups before he jumped to the professional game.
Today’s British and Irish amateurs spend about five minutes in the amateur game before turning professional. Every member of this year’s GB&I team except for Florida State’s Harry Ellis, the reigning British Amateur champion, will go through the European Tour qualifying school this year.
Whether they ever make it onto the European Tour is another matter. Most fail. The mini-tours are full of players who won big amateur events and played in Walker Cups but never gained a foothold at Europe’s highest professional level.
“There is no such thing as a career amateur anymore,” said Edwards, now the performance director for England Golf. “They all want to turn professional as quickly as possible.
“A lot of players maybe turn pro too soon. They can’t all play on the European Tour. That’s why the likes of the EuroPro, Jamega and other mini-tours have many ex-England internationals in the ranks.”
R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers gave amateur enthusiasts hope when he took up his role in 2015 and said, “We will continue to increase and invest in amateur golf to help the amateur game.”
I’m not calling for a return to the days when amateur golf was more important than the professional game. I get that social media and the internet have changed the landscape forever. I’d just like to see amateur golf given more prominence.