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Championship brings an international flavor to Pawleys Island course

8 Aug

Championship brings an international flavor to Pawleys Island course

True Blue Golf Club has been ranked among America’s top 100 public courses, it’s home to an annual collegiate tournament, and now it can add host to one of amateur golf’s majors to an already impressive résumé. 

The International Mid-Am/Senior Championship, a 54-hole event that attracted 150 players from across America, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, was contested at True Blue Aug. 5-7. It drew lots of media attention.

The International Mid-Am/Senior Championship, formerly known as the Midwest Cup, featured 50 of the world’s top 80 senior golfers (defined as 50 years of age and older) and 20 of the top 50 Mid-Amateurs (25+ years old) in the stroke play competition. 

Playing a course of True Blue’s caliber allowed Larry Festa, the event’s director of operations, to challenge players with length – the course played nearly 6,800 yards – and creative pin positions. 

“True Blue is an exceptional golf course,” said Jerry Slagle, who was responsible for assembling the star-studded field. “If anything, it’s underrated. It’s in phenomenal condition and the course gives Larry the opportunity to really do it right.”

Californian Jon Engellenner, buoyed by a final round 66, won the Mid-Amateur with a three-round score of -12, three shots better than runner-up Justin Young. In the senior championship, Colorado’s Jon Lindstrom finished at -9, one stroke clear of a surging Rob Royak of Alpharetta, Georgia. 

True Blue Golf Club in Pawleys Island.

The event also featured team competitions, something previously lacking. Eric Hjortness, executive director of the Midwestern Golf Association and CEO of the event, added the team component prior to the 2021 tournament, filling a hole in golf’s competitive calendar while broadening the appeal of the event. 

Maryland and West Virginia tied for the team mid-am title, while South-Georgia won the senior team title. 

“This is the second year in a three-year plan to create a national team championship,” Hjortness said. “This year we went international with it and all 150 players will go home and say 1 of 2 things: either I want to go back or I don’t, so this year had to be a win. Thank goodness we came to True Blue. It’s a great golf course.”

Hjortness described the event as a “tribute to amateur golf.”

In short, he said, its intent is to “promote the concept that amateur tournament golf is not about money and careers, but, rather, for those who play simply for the love of the game.”

Eric Hjortness, executive director of the Midwestern Golf Association and CEO of the event, left, talks with a golfer during the event on Friday. (Photo by Clayton Stairs/Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce)

Hjortness said the event has grown from 8 Midwest teams to 20 teams from throughout the country in 2021 to 47 teams, comprised of men and seniors in 2022.

“We believe this event will provide a spark to Men’s Mid-Amateur and Senior golf, by creating a reason to participate in more state championships and earn the right to represent their state,” he said. “The states will hopefully in turn add more Mid-Amateur events to their schedule, thereby growing their state associations.”

In addition to the good times on the course, the Hammock Coast and its myriad attractions, restaurants and beautiful beaches, proved to be a more than accommodating host. 

“As a host destination, it’s phenomenal,” Hjortness said of the Hammock Coast. “Guys can only play golf for 4-5 hours and they don’t want to go to a hotel and do nothing. Now, they can go one mile to the Atlantic Ocean and it’s one of the most phenomenal tourist destinations in the United States.”

Bob Seganti, general manager of True Blue and Caledonia Golf and Fish Club, also in Pawleys Island, said he was thrilled to host the championship event. 

“We were excited to welcome this event, and the incredible field of amateur golfers participating, to our properties,” he said. “We host dozens of tournaments of all varieties at our courses, but this is certainly one of the highest-profile events in terms of quality of field that we have ever hosted. We are honored that they chose to come to True Blue Golf Club and Caledonia Golf & Fish Club on the Hammock Coast.” 

Seganti added that a tournament like this supports tourism on the Hammock Coast, since most of the players and support staff managing the tournament are first-time visitors to the area. 

“The tournament fields consist of 160 players and representing 40 states and several countries,” he said. “The players and support staff managing the tournament are staying on the Hammock Coast anywhere from four to seven days. That’s a lot of introductions to our area and a lot of ‘heads in beds’.” 

Players in the tournament expressed their appreciation, too.

Ethan Smith from Pass Christian, Mississippi, who was staying at the Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort with his team, said he was enjoying his time at True Blue and the Hammock Coast.

Draegen Majors, left, and Marcus Jones, both from Dallas, Texas, take some practice shots. (Photo by Clayton Stairs/Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce)

“I have visited Hilton Head and Kiawah, but this is my first time here on the Hammock Coast for a golf tournament,” Smith said. “I’m excited to be here. It’s nice.”

He added that the tournament organizers did a great job bringing all of the golfers together. “They try to make a good mix as a challenge for us mid-amateur players, guys over 25 who may have careers in other areas, but still like to do a little competitive golf,” he said. “They have made it extremely competitive, but also fun for everyone.”

Domingo Jojola, from Sacramento, California, said this was his first time to the Hammock Coast, also.

“The golf course is very nice, and the people are very friendly,” he said. “The only thing we’ve had to get used to is the humidity. We don’t have it in California like you guys do over here.”

Draegen Majors and Marcus Jones, both from Dallas, Texas, said they were glad to be at the tournament.

“This is the first time I’ve been here, but this place is fantastic,” Majors said. “This is a beautiful little beach town.”

Jones commented that the Hammock Coast is much different than the Myrtle Beach area, which is several miles to the north of Pawleys Island and the Hammock Coast. He described the True Blue golf course as “awesome.”

“I might have to bring the family back here one day,” he said. 

From left, Christian Arrington, Simon Miller, and Jeff Koch, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, said they were enjoying the Hammock Coast. (Photo by Clayton Stairs/Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce) 

Christian Arrington and Jeff Koch, with a team from Albuquerque, New Mexico, agreed. 

“I’ve played in Myrtle Beach, but not on the Hammock Coast,” Arrington said. “Now that we’ve gotten in a practice round, True Blue looks awesome.”

Koch said the Hammock Coast, with its laidback, quieter beaches and communities, was distinctly different than Myrtle Beach. “This area is a little more low-key,” he said. “It is more my speed, for sure.”

Koch added that he and his team were glad to be part of this event.

“It is just a cool opportunity for us since there are not a ton of tournaments for mid-ameteurs and seniors,” he said.

Golfers from overseas agreed. Derrick Paton from Scotland said he and his team were excited to compete with American golfers, who are currently the best in amateur and senior golf.

Derrick Paton, a golfer from Scotland, said he enjoyed competing with American golfers during the tournament at True Blue. (Photo by Clayton Stairs/Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce)

“I think it is a good way for us to get better, to improve our game, is to play with the best in the world and Americans are a lot better in the senior world, so hopefully we can catch up. This is a step to catch up.”

Rubin Kellock, who was with the British team, said they loved being here for this unique event.

“It is so difficult for us to play an event in America against Americans, so we seized the opportunity, Kellock said. “It’s the only way we are going to get better, coming out of our comfort zone and playing against you guys.”

Steven Jensen, who is also on the British team, added that they have enjoyed the variety of restaurants on the Hammock Coast. He was also impressed with the True Blue golf course.

“It is great fun because you’ve got 18 very different holes,” Jensen said. “You are never bored when you walk to the next tee. You’ve got quite the variety.”

About South Carolina’s Hammock Coast

Georgetown County’s casual charm and Southern hospitality earned it the nickname the Hammock Coast, where adventure and relaxation blend together in perfect harmony, like the flowing and ebbing of waves on the county’s famed beaches. With six communities – southern Garden City, Murrells Inlet, Litchfield Beach, Pawleys Island, Georgetown and Andrews – comprising the pristine coastal area between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, visitors can experience South Carolina’s Hammock Coast like never before.

— By Chris King and Clayton Stairs for South Carolina’s Hammock Coast