Club de Golf de Panamá will take center stage in the golf world January 12-15, 2017, when it hosts the Latin America Amateur Championship (LAAC), conducted by the Masters Tournament, The R&A and the USGA. However, this is not the club’s first time in the spotlight, as it has long hosted the world’s best up-and-coming professional players on the Web.com Tour, the development arm of the PGA TOUR.
The relationship between the Web.com Tour and the Club de Golf de Panamá started in 2004 with the first Panamá Claro Championship. Jimmy Walker won the inaugural title, his first professional victory in a career that has gone on to include a win at the 2016 PGA Championship and two Ryder Cup appearances.
A year later, the trophy went to Vance Veazey, but Latin America showed promise in the field after Colombia’s Camilo Villegas finished second by one stroke. Then in 2007, the region celebrated when Argentine Miguel Carballo hoisted the trophy at the Club de Golf de Panamá and became the first Latin American player to win on that tour.
“It was a victory that marked my career forever,” said Carballo, a native of Bahia Blanca. But Carballo’s victory wasn’t the only one for Latin America. Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz won the 2014 Panamá Claro Championship to open a terrific season which he finished with three wins and a full exemption into the PGA TOUR.
“The Club de Golf de Panamá is a top level golf course. It’s very good all-around, and it presents a huge challenge. It has very difficult holes where missing the fairway is a very costly mistake. Besides, when I won, the greens were very firm and the score wasn’t so low,” said Ortiz, in a clear message to those players who will be competing at the LAAC.
Much like Walker, Carballo, Ortiz and other winners of the Panamá Claro Championship, whoever hoists the LAAC trophy will be forever changed. The opportunities offered by the LAAC are unprecedented within Latin American golf. Each year, the LAAC champion receives an invitation to compete in the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, as well as full exemptions into The Amateur Championship, U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible. In addition, the winner and the runner(s)-up are exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open Championship.