By Ron Driscoll, USGA
The goal of the Masters Tournament, The R&A and the USGA in creating the Latin America Amateur Championship in late 2014 was to forge future growth in golf among the 29 countries in the region. Occasionally, that future happens quickly.
When the second LAAC was contested at Casa de Campo Resort in 2016, it brought an unforeseen benefit: a stronger bond between the golf federation of the host country, the Dominican Republic, and the host resort.
“The Dominican federation and Casa de Campo really got to know one another at that Latin America Amateur,” said Mark Lawrie, who has been The R&A’s director for Latin America and the Caribbean for three years. “Since then, Casa de Campo has allowed the federation to use its facilities, which are among the best in the world. Playing and training on top courses and getting help from good coaches is beginning to be reflected, and some of the Dominican players are doing well here.”
Rhadames Peña (69-75) and Juan Jose Guerra (70-75) are tied for 22nd and 25th place, respectively, through two rounds of the championship, the first time that two players from the country have made the 36-hole cut.
The Dominican Republic is not alone in making strides among the countries of the LAAC. The region’s golf federations, some of them fledgling operations, realize that a little bit of investment can have a critical impact.
“If there’s one thing that golf gives you as a small country, it’s the opportunity for one player to put you on the map,” said Lawrie. “Not many sports offer that chance.”
Eight countries (Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Guatemala and Peru) were represented among the top 15 players after the opening round of the fourth LAAC on Saturday at Prince of Wales Country Club, which is not an unusual occurrence. In the final results of the inaugural LAAC in Buenos Aires, Argentina, seven countries were represented among the top 10 finishers. That rose to eight countries in both the second and third editions.
“Seeing so many countries represented among the top finishers is so important in my travels around the region,” said Lawrie, who led the Argentine Golf Association for 14 years before joining The R&A leadership. “They take enormous pride in being able to say that their guy was top 10, or top 20. It’s a huge step for them, for golf in the country.”
Lawrie referenced one of the LAAC’s hashtags, #CreatingHeroes, noting that the player gains valuable experience at the same time as it brings him into the spotlight in his home nation.
“In some ways, it’s a mirror that they can use to reflect the experience,” said Lawrie. “A young kid can look at it and say, ‘He’s traveled to Panama or Chile and played in this great event. I want to be like that guy.’”
Lawrie acknowledges that creating diversity in the game needs to go hand-in-hand with accessibility.
“I look at it as a keyhole – there are people looking through the keyhole and seeing golf on the other side,” said Lawrie. “Some people never manage to open the door, and it’s our responsibility to somehow get that door to open. Often it’s a lot less difficult than people make it out to be.”
The final major component in Lawrie’s view is education.
“Obviously, if there are programs or projects that require funding, so be it,” he said. “But the more we can educate people and help them to be more proficient at what they do, that will also facilitate courses being better, teachers being better and administrators being better. Bringing the LAAC to different regions does quite a lot of that, and I’m really proud of some of the things that have already happened.”
Once the keyhole is open, the game itself can work its magic.
“For those who don’t know what golf is all about, just provide them the opportunity and golf will take care of itself,” said Lawrie. “Because there is so much good that can be achieved through the game, because of the values we all know it has. I think all you need to do is create the path.”