Charleston Municipal to host an SCGA first: a public links state championship

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An old idea turned into a new competition on the South Carolina Golf Association’s calendar of major tournaments, and officials anxiously await the response the organization’s inaugural Public Links Championship.

“The goal is to crown a bona fide public links champion,” SCGA executive director Biff Lathrop said in looking toward the Sept. 24-25 event.

Translation: Eligibility is open only to players who are not members of private clubs. In the Midlands, golfers who play at Oak Hills, the Spur at Northwoods or other public, semi-private or E-clubs can compete. Those who belong to private clubs would be excluded.

“We’re always looking for way to get more people involved, and this offers an opportunity for another group to compete for a state championship,” Lathrop said.

The USGA staged a national public links championship for years, but the competition became a mirror for the U.S. Amateur. The USGA dropped the tournament with the advent of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball.

“Some golfers didn’t fit the definition of ‘public links’ player,” Lathrop said. “(The SCGA) held a qualifier for the USGA one year and a member at Cassique (one of Kiawah Island’s private courses) signed up.”

Armed with that knowledge, the SCGA has a list of six questions on its entry list. Any “yes” answer means the player is not eligible for the South Carolina Public Links event.

“We can do a better job (than the national organization) of vetting entries,” Lathrop said. “Florida has a successful public links event, and we’ve taken some ideas from them.”

Registration for this year’s inaugural event opened Friday. In addition to meeting the “club” requirement, the tourney is open to male amateurs 18 and older who are residents of South Carolina, a member of the SCGA and have a handicap index of 10.4 or lower.

In addition to the opportunity to play for a state championship, the venue — the Charleston Municipal Golf Course — is an added enticement. The course, affectionately called “The Muni,” dates to 1929 and recently underwent a renovation by Troy Miller.

“Friends of the Muni” report their course was built on James Island beside the savannas of the Stono River over 120 acres donated by C. Bissell Jenkins with the stipulation that the property be used only as a municipal golf course.

The “Friends” note that Johnny Adams laid out the course over what made been corn fields in 1928, but speculation points to the influence of Seth Raynor, who had designed both highly acclaimed Yeamans Hall and the Country Club of Charleston courses in 1925.

Raynor died before “The Muni” was built, but Miller, in his renovation, notes the course includes Raynor concepts such as a Redan hole.

“The Muni is an incredible layout,” Lathrop said. “They really did a great job with the renovation, and it’s a real treat to play. I think the players will have a blast.”

Now that the entry window has opened, Lathrop is anxious to see the response. The September date in football season could be a deterrent, but fall dates were the only ones available on the schedule.

“We’ll be getting our feet wet with it,” he said. “We’ll see what works and what doesn’t. It’s 36 holes, no age groups and we’ll put players in flights depending on first-round scores.

“We hope to have a full field, but we don’t know,” Lathrop said. “Maybe only 20 or so register. If this doesn’t work, we’ll work on something else. This just seemed like a good opportunity to offer a championship test for golfers who often don’t have that chance.”

Add the tournament site, “The Muni,” and the old idea seems like a winner.

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