It has the look of a Tour event and the atmosphere of a party. Clubs from all across the UK & Ireland were represented and every competitor looked like they were having the time of their lives.
Challenging misconceptions has been one of the main driving forces behind American Golf’s event strategy as Director of Marketing and Communications, Daniel Gathercole explains, “Golf is seen as a very serious, exclusive and expensive sport but the reality for most people is very different. Our Grand Final epitomises everything that is great about the sport. It is competitive but the laughter that echoes around the event from the minute people arrives is what I’ll remember most.”
Golf does bring people together and the playing partnerships reflect the broad spectrum of players we see at club level today. There were several family teams including a Welsh mother-daughter team finishing third in the Ladies competition and a father-son duo, the Hodgsons, from Boston Golf Club who were runners up in the 9 Hole Championships. Steve, James’s Dad, was overwhelmed at the end of their tightly contested Final and had this to say about the event, “To play in a final like this with my son has been a wonderful experience. Our games came together today and we both played some fantastic golf. The whole weekend has been amazing and I can’t thank American Golf enough.”
Running alongside the main event was a VIP and Media day which included representatives from many of the clubs who hosted American Golf regional qualifying events earlier in the year. Their experience of working with American Golf has been exceptional. It seems that the retailer is bringing a fresh approach that embraces the industry and ultimately also brings new people into their clubs. Pontnewydd for one was so impressed with the support and delivery of the one event that it hosted that it is determined to get American Golf back for even more tournaments in 2017!
There were positive stories everywhere you looked. One of my favourites was that of the two lady golfers who met on a golf holiday and 18 months later, much to their own surprise, found themselves crowned American Golf Ladies Champions. Rustington Golf Club member, and American Golf Ladies Champion, Sarah Cooper Olsen explains, “It started when Maggie invited me to come and play a free round of golf. We sneaked in as third place qualifiers, but we put together two good rounds and now we’re Ladies’ Champions! Maggie was so nervous she hit an air shot on the first so I really didn’t fancy our chances. I had to hit my drive through tears of laughter and we haven’t stopped laughing since, the whole event has been incredible.”
The Seniors winners, Ian Hendry and Martin Leo, took the prize for most jubilant acceptance speech, leaping onto the stage with more gusto than 36 holes in terrible weather conditions would normally allow. Although their score of 78 is impressive it’s the back stories that make this weekend special. Ian had to overcome a series of challenges as he explains, “I was on a boating holiday until Thursday so all through the first round I still felt like I was at sea. I flew back on Thursday night and drove from Bognor on Friday morning to make the tee time but I’m so glad I did. American Golf have been fantastic hosts and we played some great golf.”
The icing on the cake in terms of the delivery of the weekend came in the form of On Course Foundation. American Golf has been a staunch supporter of the charity which uses golf to rehabilitate wounded, sick and injured service personnel, since 2014. The company gave On Course Foundation places in each of its events and asked all companies involved in delivering the Grand Final to offer work placements for some of its members.
If you are lucky enough to be approached by American Golf next year to either take part in or host an event, I would advise you to jump at the chance. I guarantee that everyone who was at the Belfry last weekend will want to go back time and time again. And, from what we hear, 2017 will be even bigger and better with new formats and family events sitting alongside the now firm favourites. This really is special event not just for those that take part but also for those that run it. And it shows.