By Chris King
Jeff Stapleton was the first player through the registration line Saturday morning at the North Myrtle Beach PGA TOUR Superstore, collecting his gift bag and officially launching the 2019 PlayGolfMyrtleBeach.com World Amateur Handicap Championship.
For the Pennsylvanian, the World Am is more than “just” a golf tournament.
It’s part of a larger Myrtle Beach vacation.
The World Am is the middle portion of a three-week stay for Stapleton. He rented a house for the trip, and in the week prior to the tournament, his children and grandchildren stayed with him, providing an enjoyable family getaway. The week after the event, he and his wife will enjoy alone time along the South Carolina coast.
But on Saturday morning, it was tournament time.
Stapleton is ready to begin his 22nd or 23rd World Am (he couldn’t remember the exact total, but hey, when you get over 20, who is counting?!). In his more than two decades of playing, he has won his flight once, in 2017, a feat he would surely like to repeat, but for the 4.1 handicap, winning isn’t what brings him back to Myrtle Beach.
The camaraderie of the event is at the heart of its continuing attraction.
“Seeing my old friends and seeing how bad I can play,” Stapleton said with a laugh when asked what he was most looking forward to about the coming week.
His on-course ambitions are higher than he lets on, but the self-deprecating Stapleton relishes the social side of the event.
“I’ve met so many friends (at the World Am),” he said. “I met a very good friend at this tournament, and I play at his member-guest. I’ve met people from overseas, I’ve met people who don’t speak English, and I also met a guy that lives about 5 miles from me. It’s an outstanding tournament.”
Making friends and winning his flight were great tournament experiences, and so was making a hole in one at since-closed Heather Glen, an accomplishment that also won Stapleton two free airline tickets to anywhere in the continental United States.
“If you’ve never played in [the World Am], try it once and you will be back every year,” said the man who helped kickoff this year’s event.