What an incredible week the 2013 Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship was. Despite monsoon-like conditions (7 inches of rain in 36 hours) to start the week, my time out at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas was amazing. This was my first time covering any sporting event and I have to say that it was an absolute treat to have the event be a prestigious amateur golf tournament.
When I arrived in Houston I had about a two hour drive out to the golf course in Trinity. I can’t say I remember much from the ride other than the fact that it was raining the whole time. I was grateful to have a cozy SUV to get up there because it was horrible outside. Trinity is a small town with just two stoplights and a few restaurants and shops in their main downtown area. I was actually surprised at how large the town was simply because I got the impression that it was a lot smaller from what people had told me. The town is nestled along Lake Livingston, so you have more and more people buying land in the area to build lake houses and deep woods retreats. It seemed as though each parcel of land offered some incredible natural beauty. I can only hope that one day I’m able to live in a place like that.
When I arrived, I found that the golf club was a small town in its own right. Whispering Pines is a sprawling luxury country club, complete with temporary cottage housing for members along with an exquisite clubhouse. The course offers fantastic views of the Texas woodlands and the backwaters of Lake Livingston.
Adjacent to the club’s property is Camp Olympia, a premium summer camp with some pretty impressive facilities. It’s exactly what you’d expect a summer camp to be with basketball courts, a swimming pool, a climbing wall and much more. It was here that 80 of the world’s best amateur golfers would stay for the duration of the tournament. It was also the epicenter of the Spirit’s meals and nightlife. Camp Olympia was great and I found myself recalling my days at Camp Ransburg in Bloomington, Indiana.
As I said before, we got a ton of rain. There was so much rain that the tournament directors were forced to cancel an entire day of play and shorten the event from 72 holes to 54. When I went out on the course on one of the heaviest days of rain, there were spots on the fairways that had two feet of standing water.
I’ll give the course superintendent and his crew a lot of credit. They got the course in impeccable shape for the tournament, so that when play resumed on Thursday afternoon, things looked beautiful. Casual water and lift, clean, and place rules did come into effect for the tournament. Throughout the week tee shots wouldn’t roll much and balls would often get embedded into the fairways. The greens played incredibly fast too which made for an interesting mix for the players.
I spent most of the week out on a golf cart taking pictures and posting updates to social media. In doing that it afforded me a great opportunity to see the golf course in all it’s beauty, to be outside, and too interact with some of the captains and others working at the event. Of course it also allowed me to see some incredibly talented amateur golfers (and probably some future professionals) navigate a really tough course. Team USA dominated most of the week, but I was really impressed with Malaysia. I believe it was their first time at the Spirit International and they definitely made an impression on everyone there. The ladies on that team Michelle Koh and Kelly Tan, were clearly future LPGA players. In fact, Kelly had already qualified for Q school and would be a pro very soon. One of Malaysia’s men, Gavin Green impressed me as well. He is an extremely long hitter, a must have for a PGA career, and reached the green in many spots where other guys could not. He also got off to a hot start and helped put Malaysia in contention for a gold medal. A slow Saturday for the Malaysians kept them from overtaking the Americas, but Green still put on a solid performance. I would not be surprised to see him on the tour.
My favorite team of the week was Canada. I had a chance to spend a little bit more time with them and their coach Robert Ratcliffe, during some of the meals at Camp Olympia. All four of their players had great heads on their shoulders and were a pleasure to speak with. One of their players, Brooke Henderson, ended up winning the Women’s Individual Championship. She is on a fast track to the LPGA and I will be very interested to see where she ends up. Tony Gil, whom I probably spoke with the most, is a gifted 15 year old with a sweet swing and an impressive demeanor. Although they didn’t medal as a team, I have to say that they represented their country very well and left a positive impression on me.
The highlight of the tournament was definitely a five-man playoff at the end of the tournament between Americans Jordan Niebrugge and Scottie Scheffler, Finland’s Toni Hakula, Sweden’s Daniel Jennevret, and France’s Julien Brun. Although they all tied for the Men’s Individual Championship (based on birdies), a sponsor’s exemption to the 2014 Crowne Plaza Invitational (PGA Tour event) was at stake. The group would play hole number 18 three times before a winner was crowned. Finland’s Toni Hakula was first eliminated, then USA’s Jordan Niebrugge. The playoff ended with Scheffler chipping it into the water and Jennevret missing a putt, with Julien Brun making par to earn birth into the event. I can’t say I’d ever experienced anything like it before. All of the players and fans were together on the hillside of the 18th green watching all of the drama unfold. The camaraderie and passion for golf in that moment was simply incredible.
Team USA captured the overall men’s and women’s combined championship as well as the men’s championship. Team France won the women’s championship and of course, Brooke Henderson and the men of the playoff took the individual titles.
Overall, I was extremely blessed to be a part of such a great event. It was a lot of fun, though a lot of work, to cover and it was worth it. I hope that one day I have an opportunity to do more work like that. It was the perfect combination of working outdoors, doing event marketing, and interacting with other people from around the world. PGA Tour, if you ever need someone to cover your events, give me a buzz!