See- even Judge Smails wants you to sign up for the Myrtle Beach World Am!

See- even Judge Smails wants you to sign up for the Myrtle Beach World Am!

The Myrtle Beach World Amateur, formerly known as the Dupont World Am, World Amateur, Sandbagger Open (among other names) is once again slated for August 29-September 2nd (it’s almost always held the week (Mon-Thu) going into Labor Day weekend).  I’ve played it, and if you haven’t, I’d recommend it at least once in your life.  If you’ve played it, then you probably get it.  If not, here’s why you should strongly consider playing.

1) Competition.  If you’re like me you don’t belong to a private club so the opportunity to play competitive golf is limited.  Sure, there’s the Golf Channel Amateur Tour and the Golfweek Amateur Tour, but these are 1-day events on weekends (fine, well-run events though).  The Myrtle Beach event is four rounds over four days…just like a major that the pros have.  It’s easy to have a great first round, but try coming back on that second, third, or fourth day when you’re tired (or if you were out enjoying yourself the night before) and maybe you’ll gain some appreciation for what the pros go through week in, week out.  Or, you have a bad first day (I managed to put up a nice cool 108 one year that had an 8, a 9 and a 10 on the card) and you have 3 days to make up the ground.  Maybe you’re in the lead after one round (they post the scores at night at the Convention Center where they have a nightly 19th hole party).  Have you ever had to sleep on a lead before?

2) Handicapped flights.  Look, I could feed you a line of bullshit and tell you that they have eliminated sandbaggers (or bandits, or cheating, lying assholes).  They haven’t, but they’re doing a decent (could be better but they’ve made improvements) job of policing it.  You don’t see that many guys throwing up net 59’s anymore at least and then claiming to have a hot putter.  To play you have to have a valid USGA handicap index (the “I’m about a 12” won’t cut it) and they will give you a tournament index based on the rating and slope of the course each day (so your index will vary from day to day).  You’ll be playing with golfers who have roughly the same index as you do.  It’s not perfect but they’ve made improvements.  If you do post two net 59’s on consecutive days, expect that you’ll get to meet with the handicap committee and they’ll want to have a chat.

3) Cost.  It’s $525 for four rounds including cart.  In my experience, you’ll get one of the top-tier courses in Myrtle Beach, two average courses, and one less-than-average course.  With several courses having gone under in the last few years, the odds are you won’t be playing too many dog tracks.  Split that, and it’s just over $100 per round which isn’t bad for a once-a-year “major” event.  Yes, travel costs are extra but it’s Myrtle Beach in August (not exactly prime season).  From DC it’s an 8-9 hour drive (Myrtle Beach Airport’s pretty easy to fly into but you’re going to need a car as they don’t provide transportation to the courses).  When I’ve played I drive down, mostly because it’s easier to decide when to head back rather than waiting for your flight.  The cost includes a decent gift bag (a decent golf shirt and some other stuff) and their nightly 19th hole party every night that I would call watch the seniors get their groove on (if that’s you, then by all means shake what your momma gave ya!).  The party is typically slammed on Mondays and attendance backs off Tue-Thu nights.  If you’re looking for a younger rave party…definitely not the scene but if you want to have a couple cold ones and chat with some of your fellow competitors, you can’t beat it.  They say they have food, but trying to make dinner out of it isn’t that hot of an idea.  The good news is that there’s cheap eats up and down the area so you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg on meals.  The courses will provide bagels and donuts for that morning, but Gatorade is on you.

4) Fun.  Look, odds are you’re not going to win (and if you do, expect some scrutiny from your fellow competitors).  There are approximately 3,400 competitors (it was up to 4,500 years ago) so the odds are pretty small.  Accept this, and focus on playing the best you can.  However, you’re going to meet some salt-of-the-earth folks who love the game as much as you do (and are as nuts as  you are) and who know some of the same bad jokes as you do.  Odds are, someone in your group (you’ll be flighted and your group of 48-50 players will play the same courses on each day) will have a skins game (typically birdie skins) of some kind going.  If that’s your thing, throw some cash into the pot (if not, do NOT pull the “gambling at Bushwood is illegal” crap- let people have their fun because it’s not “harming the integrity of the event”).  I managed to pull down $350 from a skins pot by birdieing a hole on a day where I shot a gross 102.  That, and a cold beer (or five), can take the steam off.  I still smile and chuckle at some of the stories I heard (one started with “so there I was, laying 2 and I noticed I still had glitter all over me…”).  If you have a group you go out with, have a designated driver (more tips below) or agree in advance to pay for an Uber.

5) Something to prepare for.  Playing every weekend is fantastic, and I wouldn’t trade my weekend morning rounds away.  But the reality is that other than playing against yourself and the course, there’s not that big event to plan around.  Putting an event on the calendar months in advance means you’re preparing for it.  Maybe you practice more, or focus on your short game more.  But it’s that “circle it on the calendar” event that you now have.  It’s not just another weekend round, it’s a 4-day, 72-hole, count-everything, playing-them-down, no-gimmes tournament.  You’ll learn about yourself and you’ll be a better golfer for testing yourself.  Put it this way- the first time I played there, I used to never thing of those 18-24 inch putts until I missed one.  And another one.  And another one.  See there?  Made you think.  It’ll make you a better player.

Having said that, it’s an undertaking and by Thursday night, you’ll be tired.  So here’s a few tips on what to do, and what not to do:

-Myrtle Beach in late August is hot and humid.  And I mean really hot, and really humid (worse than we get in the DMV).  Staying hydrated isn’t a joke.  My trick is this- freeze a few bottles of water the night before and take them with you.  They’ll thaw, and you’ll have icy cold water.  Pick up a case of bottled water and go to town.  Gatorade is another great option especially if you’re sweating a lot.  Save the beer for the 19th hole is not a bad idea.

-Courses have pro shops, but you’re better off having it with you and not hoping that the pro shop has whatever item you need.  Bring four days (5 if you manage to win your flight and make the finals) worth of stuff.  Think socks, shirts, shorts, shoes (bring two pair and rotate) along with balls (the tournament uses USGA tournament rules which includes the “one ball” rule; in short, you can’t mix brands- pick one and stick with it), tees, gloves, caps (and sunglasses) and the like.   Most courses have ranges and will include practice balls (some don’t which is pretty crappy).  There are retail golf stores in Myrtle Beach should you need additional whatever.  I’d also make sure my grips were in good shape before heading down.

-Sunscreen and bug spray are pretty much mandatory.  I’m not kidding.  Something sweat-proof (I like the Coppertone Sport spray- it’s easy to apply and does the job).  Bug spray…look for something with deet that keeps mosquitoes away.  Try playing with a sunburn and a bunch of mosquito bites and you’ll learn a whole new level of pain.  Use sunscreen and bug spray.

-Get a USGA rulebook, and read up on it (they cost a dollar; they’ll give you one if you sign up to be a member).  At a minimum, understand rules on hazards, out-of-bounds, playing a provisional, maximum number of clubs (14).  I hope you don’t get someone who sees themselves as an expert (by your 9th hole of the day you’ll be actively plotting their death).  If you’re not sure about what to do if you hit in a hazard, ask someone.  Understand that if your ball ends up in a divot, that’s tough shit for you.  You probably roll it over back home, but you can’t do that here.

-Keep accurate track  of your score and your competitor.  You’ll be marking a competitor’s card and they will mark yours (like the pros do).  If you’re unsure of their score, speak up and say something.  Keep accurate track of yours as well.  Better to take an extra minute and make sure you have the correct score than mis-mark a card.  Tell your competitor your score after each hole.  Before you turn them in you’ll review them (just like the pros do).  If you see an issue, speak up because if you sign for a 5 and you made a 4, then tough shit.  It’s a 5.  To that point, you’ll get paired with different people each day within your flight, so if you end up with a guy who’s a total jackass, odds are you won’t have to play with him again.   There’s 1 or 2 in each flight…95% of the guys you’ll meet are good, decent, salt-of-the-earth types just like you.

-Expect pace of play to be slow.  You can’t just say “I’ll hit another” or “just drop one here” like you’d do in a casual round.  You have to drop according to the rulebook, and if you go out of bounds off the tee, the only option is to re-tee with a 1-stroke penalty (when you’re hitting your 5th shot from the tee box after hitting 2 balls O. B. it’s not much fun but it is the rules).  Rounds of 5 hours are about what you should expect.  Hopefully you don’t end up having your last day take 6 1/2 hours because of torrential rain the night before and the course being cart path only (this happened to me and it wasn’t much fun).

-If the heat and humidity aren’t enough, thunderstorms aren’t unusual.  Courses will typically have some kind of alarm/warning system with respect to storms.  Bring some Ziploc bags with you (the quart size) to protect your scorecard (that you turn in).  I use them for my golf gloves as well.  Don’t leave your clubs in the car when you’re done.  Bring them inside.

-By all means, go out and enjoy yourself at night, but don’t be an idiot.  Have a designated driver, hire an Uber, call a cab, or go out and party somewhere close to where you’re staying.  Hangovers in the heat aren’t fun.  Plan accordingly.  Bring Advil, Tylenol, or whatever painkiller/NSAID you prefer.

-You’ll get your course assignments a couple weeks before the tournament.  Definitely worth doing some research on the courses.  The committee will set tee boxes so if you’re a 15-handicapper you won’t have to play from the tips.  I’ve only seen one course setup being unfair (we were in the 18-20 handicap range and they thought it was 8-10 indexes); we had a ton of forced carries that few of us could clear.  It also made for a long day and a lot of high scores.

-People fly in from all over the country (and outside the U.S.) to compete.  It’s a great chance to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t meet.

-Kids go back to school the week of the tournament so traffic can be an issue.  Give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go.  I’d recommend having drive times checked on Google Maps or something similar.  Allow time to stretch and warm up properly or take care of anything you need to take care of prior to teeing off.

-Tournament rounds are shotgun start; in other words, you won’t start on the 1st hole in all likelihood.  You might start on 3, 8, 11 or whatever.  The home pro will give you a quick speech to everyone before they head off.  If there’s a local rule, they’ll tell you (one day we played “lift, clean and place” and they told us this- if they don’t tell you this, you can’t touch your ball until you’re on the green).

-MUTE YOUR MOBILE PHONE.  This should be obvious but sure enough I’ve played with a guy who had his going off.  After the second time it went off the three of us playing with him had a word.  If you need to check messages do so while you’re waiting for a group to clear off the green (after you’ve ascertained your yardage and club selection for your approach shot).  If you want to take pictures do it quickly, and make sure nobody is playing a shot while you do it.  Not hard.

-If you need a ride on a specific day you can Uber or request a ride-share, but you’re on your own to get to the courses.  To that, not a bad idea to stay somewhere central (close to as many of your courses as possible).  Condos, AirBnB, hotels, and motels are all viable options.  Go with what’s going to be easiest for you.  If you look around deals can be found.  Keep in mind that the 19th hole and the registration center (where you pick up your stuff on Sunday) are located at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

-From the tournament website, there’s this on range finders:The World Am does allow range finders, but they must be USGA approved. Any device that is used may only have the function of measuring distance, even if the device has other options that can be turned off, it is not permitted. Any device measuring slope or wind is not allowed.  Not sure?  Check your range-finder and make sure it’s legal for tournament play.

-Women play in their own separate flights, so if you’re a woman and considering playing…by all means sign up!  You’ll be playing with other women (all from the same tee box) and you’ll have the same chance to play tournament golf (unlike this week’s ANA Inspiration there’s not an equivalent of Poppy’s Pond on 18 (if there was I wouldn’t jump in because God only knows what else is in there).

-Others I’ve played with have brought snacks with them to eat during the round (apple slices, orange slices, PB&J sandwiches seem to be the most common).  A deck of cards in a Ziploc bag isn’t a bad idea (especially if there’s a weather delay).  Not bad ideas all around.

-Most groups will have a few enterprising folks who will get a skins game of some variation going.  Participation is optional, but that cost is extra.  Look for the guy with a few pieces of paper talking to every cart 5-10 minutes before everyone heads out.  Again- winning some big skins (that’s cash money) can take the pain out of a humiliating round, so if you’re inclined bring some cash with you.  No PayPal, no Venmo.  Cash on the barrel-head.

-While I’ve always traveled solo, many people play and bring their families with them.  Not a bad idea, and certainly there’s plenty of family-friendly stuff in Myrtle Beach.  For time budgeting, expect that you’ll be gone most of the day (5 hour round plus warm-up time, plus going to/from the course).  They can go to the beach, hit the malls, enjoy air conditioning and they probably won’t miss you all that much.

-For those in search of night-life, things have changed and a couple of the standard-bearer options are no more (farewell, Thee Doll House).  If that’s your thing, research it prior but expect that the local constabulary might be waiting for you should you decide to drive while under the influence.  Just remember that if you are looking for…well, you know…then be smart (and remember to use the “safe search” on your computer).  If you have specific questions you can always DM me on Twitter

-South Carolina has weird laws on purchasing liquor (among other things).  If you drive down and are the type to enjoy making a pitcher of margaritas after a round of golf, maybe stash a couple bottles of tequila (or whatever) in your suitcase.   Don’t try to re-sell it, but for your own consumption…do what you need to do.  It’ll be our little secret.

You could do a hell of a lot worse than spend a week in Myrtle Beach playing golf.  To test yourself against golfers of your same ability over 72 holes is well worth taking time off.  Hope you make it to Myrtle Beach!