The Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship finally managed to attract players from the two Dakotas and Idaho in the same year, but Alaska is keeping the event from having players from all 50 states this year.
The 34th World Am has again attracted more than 3,000 players, with 3,009 players registered as of Monday from the 49 states and 22 nations. Countries new to the event are Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.
It will be played next Monday through Friday on 52 Grand Strand courses, including Friday's championship-round host the Dye Club at Barefoot Resort, and 32 will be used for each of the first four rounds.
The world's largest single-site golf tournament is down from more than 3,060 players last year for a mild drop of about 1.7 percent. The tournament had more than 3,400 players in 2014 but play has declined in now each of the past three years.
"If I only looked at that as a whole I would be, not discouraged, but we always hope for a little bit of growth or at least a flatline would be good. ... But we're up domestically," said Jeff Monday, tournaments director for marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which operates the event.
Monday said the event has 77 fewer international players compared to 2016, though there are three more from Canada despite an exchange rate that remains unfavorable for Canadians. There are far less Europeans this year, and the Euro and English Pound have also slipped in value.
"That was very unexpected for us, and I'm not really sure what to attribute that to, but it's something we'll kind of have to look at," Monday said. "We'll survey those players after this year to see if there's a reason they didn't come back.
"I don't know whether it's [exchange rate] or just an overall climate as far as travel goes. So we'll look forward to seeing what those people have to say."
The tournament has featured players from 48 states in each of the past three years, with South Dakota and Alaska the holdouts last year, North Dakota and South Dakota absent in 2015, and South Dakota and Idaho missing in 2014.
"We've done well with getting new players and returning people who haven't played in a few years," Monday said.
Registration isn't necessarily closed, and each flight could handle a few more players, but it would be difficult for organizers to accept new players because of handicap research. "We're never going to turn anybody away from playing in the event, but at that point there are a lot more restrictions on needing a handicap because we've already gone through all that, especially a first-time player," Monday said.
There are three new divisions this year. The gross division that doesn't factor in handicaps was brought back three years ago and a senior gross division has been added this year and has attracted 48 players, the same amount that is in the open gross division. "Hopefully we can build on both of those," Monday said.
A division for players 80 and older has also been created and has 45 players. Monday said he's had requests for the 80-and-up division, which will play courses that have forward tees with men's ratings. "They would always say they had to play with those young guys, those 70-year-olds," Monday said. "They're appreciative of it and we were able to actually get people who haven't played for a few years to come back and do that."
A Just For Fun non-competitive division has been added, in which the approximate 50 participants will not be required to play by the rules and will not compete for flight prizes, yet they'll have all other tournament benefits including the gift bag, 19th Hole and four rounds of golf.
"We're an all-inclusive golf tournament," Monday said. "We want to fit what everybody wants. Whether that's the young guy who wants to play with no handicap or the 86-year-old who wants to play with other 80-year-olds. It's all about finding ways to really incorporate as many people as we can into the event."
The tournament's 19th hole expo at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center will be emceed by Golf Channel personalities Charlie Rymer for its first two days and Damon Hack and Chantel McCabe for the final two days. John Maginnes and Brian Katrek will broadcast their show on Sirius/XM Radio's PGA Tour Radio each day from the expo, and both McCabe and pro golfer and social media sensation Paige Spiranac will take part in on-stage discussions and interact with participants for contests and interviews on the floor. Spiranac will be at the convention center Tuesday and Wednesday.
Billiards world champion Ewa Mataya Laurance of Conway will be challenging contestants to matches.
Area golf instructors including Brad Redding and Hugh Royer III, and Randy Joyner of Ballantyne Country Club in Charlotte will give instruction and field questions on stage, and bands performing include East Coast Party Band on Monday, Plane Jane on Tuesday and Soul Fish on Thursday, and Karaoke returns Wednesday.
The 19th hole will include putting and pin proximity contests with opportunities to win $25,000 for a made long putt or hole in one, a nine-hole putting course, arcade games, four Wii stations, pool tables, table tennis and foosball tables.
"We'll have everything associated with being the largest golf course party anybody can imagine," Monday said.
The event also includes a new phone app for participants to easily find information, and live scoring is possible for players who want to post them hole by hole. Championship round scoring will be live and posted by tournament organizers.
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