I was recently asked to attend the American Golf Awards at The Belfry, and around that play in their free-to-enter scratch event over the Brabazon and the PGA National.
It was all part of their end-of-season finale where the finals of their roster of events took place over four days with their inaugural awards ceremony squeezed in the middle.
In typical fashion I arrived late, underprepared and not really knowing what to expect. At the end of it all, I had two fun days, where I came away hating myself a little bit more but loving the industry I work in and the sport in supports a little bit more.
Here’s what I took away from the experience…
American Golf are offering an incredible experience for FREE to the UK’s golfers.
I have only been part of the golf industry for five years, following a midlife crisis inspired craving to do something I loved rather than something that actually pays the bills. As such I have become one of the over-privileged, cynical halfwits that adorn our industry.
It is normal to get invited to play great golf courses – you could fill your diary with them – and as recently as the week before I had been over at Birkdale, so ludicrously in my brain this event was already playing second fiddle.
As such it was so refreshing to play with people who were excited to be there, and so they should have been. American Golf served up three rounds of golf for the scratch competitors on a former Ryder Cup course, Sky filmed the whole event, there were electronic scoreboards, free lunches, free range balls and – perhaps regrettably – free beers.
It was a genuinely world class experience, and that was just the scratch. The finals of their myriad tournaments continued over four days at Belfry as lucky qualifiers from their free to enter competitions were all treated to the same experience as we had. I hope they are able to continue to offer it for many years to come and in future will afford the event and concept it richly deserves.
It is a good idea to know the format of the event you are playing in before setting out to compete.
As a result of my lack of planning things did not really pan out. I came off my first two rounds of the scratch event at the Belfry quite pleased with 71-78, thinking I was nicely tucked away in mid-table, hadn’t disgraced myself, and was looking forward to celebrating my mediocrity at their awards ceremony that evening. It wasn’t until some way down my third beer that I realised I had to play again the following day and it was somewhere near the bottom of my sixth that I realised that I was in the final group for the final round the following morning.
Try as I might I couldn’t talk myself down from the brink and therefore arrived in no fit state to take my place in the final group the following morning. What followed was nothing short of embarrassing, I just hope they cut out the fatted wedge I produced for my third into the 10th from the Sky highlights package.
The Belfry has two very good golf courses.
I have played more golf than usual in the Midlands this year as part of research for our upcoming England’s Top 100 Courses feature.
I have been to Copt Heath, Coventry and Sandwell Park all within a short drive of The Belfry and all are excellent. Colleagues have been to places like Enville, and Little Aston. It really is an overlooked area.
The refurbished Belfry, while being a destination in its own right, is also a great place to base a trip to the area. The Belfry courses split opinion – some love the Ryder Cup history, see past the pylons, and salivate at the drivable 10th on the Brabazon.
Others are sniffy about it. Just a parkland on a farm, they say.
The truth is that both the PGA and the Brabazon are good tests. The latter has some incredible holes. The 10th, for all its storied history, remains a genuine tease and possibly the best risk-reward short par 4 in the country.
But it has other seriously high points, the par-5 3rd is reminiscent of the cape hole at Bay Hill, the 6th would not be out of place at Doral, and having played 18 with a medal card it is a serious nerve jangler. You want to cut off the corner as much as possible to leave a shorter shot over the green side pond, but that brings it in off the tee. It is the best use of water on a course I can think of. In between it offers a distinguished set of par 3s and never dips below the very good.
Add to that it is always in sensational condition, made all the more amazing by the amount of traffic, and there is not a lot to dislike.
The PGA is fun and fair offering birdie chances, but also asks some serious strategic questions notably on the 4th and 14th. All I would say is please cut the bush down in the middle of the 5th fairway.
Awards ceremonies never fail to deliver a tear or two.
This was American Golf’s first attempt at an industry awards. Hosted by Di Dougherty, it was a room full of the great and the good of the golf industry. I love awards ceremonies – they are a line in the sand to take a step back, reward and applaud people for a job well done.
This was no exception and the winner of PGA Pro of the Year Jon Earl of Ifield Golf Club, pictured below, made a speech what will live long in the memory.
His love for the sport and his club, where he was a member and then club pro. It was proper man and boy stuff and it makes the hairs on my neck stand up just recalling it.
You can offer a million dollars for a hole in one prize for a reason.
Among all the other things happening at The Belfry was a hole-in-one shootout, where people were offered the chance to win $1 million dollars if they managed to ace a specially created par 3 over water on the Brabazon.
Needless to say no one got close – around 10 feet was the nearest anyone got – and a hundred or so social media live broadcasts died a slow death.
But hey, there is always next year. I wonder if it will be rollover…
American Golf Championships highlights shows:
October 17, 7pm: American Golf Junior Championship
October 24, 7pm: American Golf Long Drive Championship (women and men over 45)
October 31, 6.30pm: American Golf Long Drive Championship (men under 45)
November 7, 7pm: American Golf Family Championship
November 14, 6.30pm: American Golf Ladies’ Championship
November 21, 7pm: American Golf Senior Championship
November 28, 7pm: American Golf 9-Hole Individual Championship
December 5, 7pm: American Golf 9-Hole Pairs Championship
December 12, 7pm: American Golf Scratch Championship
December 19, 8.30pm: American Golf season review