In a press conference which was held at San Francisco’s Olympic Club, Monday, July 29, the United States Golf Association (USGA) announced the venues which have been selected to host the first two years of the new Men’s and Women’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, and San Francisco’s Olympic Club heads the list.
The new tournaments have been scheduled for April 30 – May 6, 2015, with the Olympic Club hosting the Men’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship, and Bandon Dunes Resort, on the central Oregon coast, the Women’s event.
John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of Rules, Competitions and Equipment Standards for the USGA, described the selection of the Olympic Club and Bandon Dunes as the inaugural venues for the new events like this, “We wanted to create a ‘wow’ factor with our initial sites, and we think we’ve done that with Olympic and Bandon.”
The Olympic Club has hosted a number of the USGA’s national championships: five U.S. Opens (1955, ’66, ’87, ’98 and 2012), three U.S. Amateurs (1958, ’81 and 2007) and the U.S. Junior Amateur (2004). Olympic and USGA officials already have started informal talks about bringing another U.S. Open to the Lake Course, probably sometime between 2021 and 2023; the club is expected to extend an official invitation later this year.
The newly-created Amateur Four-Ball Championship will replace the Amateur Public Links Championships, which the USGA announced earlier this year would be held for the last time in 2014. Originally conceived of to give “blue-collar” golfers – those who do not belong to a private club of some sort – a national championship of their own, in the last few years the “Publinx”, as they are known, had devolved into just another national championship stage for college-age golfers.
The new events are part of the USGA’s commitment to the amateur game, and a move to bring the opportunity for national championship-level competition to a wider segment of the golfing public. Four-ball, which pits two-player teams against each other in match play, with the better score from each team counting for the hole, allows for “risk/reward” play, with one team member free to try a riskier shot if their teammate is in a safe position. The format was selected to give the four-ball, better-ball team game, a staple of club competitions nationwide, as well as part of the format of the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup and Presidents Cup competitions, a place on the national championship stage for amateurs.
San Francisco golf legend Johnny Miller, a longtime member of the Olympic Club who grew up practically within sight of the club, joined the press gathering via conference call and gave this assessment of the new format:
“I don’t know if the USGA realizes, this could be possibly the most popular tournament for amateurs in the country. I just think people are going to be coming out of the woodwork”, Miller said. “I think the reason why the four-ball works so well is there are a lot of players out there that don’t necessarily under pressure want to be teeing it up – but with a partner, they can just turn it loose and be more free.
“[…] there’s a lot of strategy as to whether you go one long hitter and one […] player that’s steady and makes a lot of pars and how you put those teams together. There’s risk/reward situations and the four-ball is really fun. I think it’s going to be as popular as almost any Amateur Championship, I really do.”
John Bodenhamer laid out the format of the competition as follows: Men’s competition will have a starting field of 128 teams, and after 36-hole stroke play qualifying, the low 32 will advance to match play; the women’s championship will start with 64 teams, and the low 32 will advance to match play.
The Amateur Four-Ball Championships will be held annually, typically between late April and the middle of May, and will feature a new qualification format in which nationwide qualifying tournaments will be held in the northern states in late summer and early autumn, avoiding the possibility of a late winter impacting qualification for golfers in the northern part of the country.
In 2016 the Men’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship will be contested at the venerable Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, in southern New York just north of Manhattan; the women’s event will be held at Streamsong Resort, a new golf course complex and resort in central Florida, southeast of Tampa.