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  • Alistair Tait

Will we see two “British” Amateur Championships?

Thirty four flags flew over Portmarnock last year as the 124th Amateur Championship got underway. There were 26 at Royal County Down when the world’s best female amateurs started the 117th Womens Amateur.

There might just be a handful at Royal Birkdale and West Lancs Golf Clubs, respective venues for the Amateur Championship and Womens Amateur which start August 25th.

The R&A has wiped out most of its schedule this year, but has decided to plough on with its elite amateur championships. The fields for those championships might bear no resemblance to recent tournaments. The R&A is in danger of putting the word “British” back into these prestigious events.

The governing body has provided no details on these championships. Duncan Weir, the R&A’s executive director of golf development and amateur championships, said:

“We look forward to staging these great championships which will provide an opportunity for the leading players to compete at the highest level.”

My fear is the level might not be nowhere near as high as its been recently. An R&A spokesperson couldn’t divulge details of said championships, but my hunch is both events will not feature the same international fields we’ve seen in previous years because of Covid-19.

Anyone currently travelling to the UK is not allowed to leave the place they’re in staying for the first 14 days. Given the way this pandemic is going, there’s a good chance that condition could still be in place by the time the championships get underway. How many competitors are going to want to sit doing nothing for two weeks? Plus, they may have to self-isolate for another two weeks upon returning to their home country.

In the case of the Amateur, it takes place just nine days after the conclusion of the U.S. Amateur Championship at Bandon Dunes. That discounts any player from competing in both championships if the current restrictions are in place. Not just Americans and international players, but British and Irish players thinking of competing in both championships.

The cosmopolitan nature of the fields has been one of the joys of recent men’s and women’s championships. Identifying all of the flags fluttering above the venues gets harder as the years roll by. Every year there seems to be competitors from countries not normally associated with golf.

Thirty four nations sent representatives to Portmarnock last year. There were players from Slovakia, Morocco, Costa Rica, Estonia, Kenya, Puerto Rico, Poland, India and Iceland among the 288 competitors who started the qualifying rounds at Portmarnock and The Island.

Players from 10 different countries have emerged victorious in the last 13 championships. The Womens Amateur trophy has gone to seven different nations in the last 11 years.

The cosmopolitan nature of women’s amateur golf was obvious from looking at the first nine players on leaderboard after 36-hole qualifying at Royal County Down. They were from nine different countries – England, Italy, the United States, New Zealand, Finland, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark and The Netherlands. Participants from 26 countries entered the championship, including from nations not normally associated with the royal & ancient game. Countries such as Russia, India, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

As with the men’s championship, England made up the bulk of last year’s starting field for the Womens Amateur. However, the state of women’s golf in the British Isles can be measured by the fact the United States, Spain, France, Germany and Sweden sent more players than Scotland, Wales or Ireland. Wales had just one representative, Scotland four and Ireland seven.

As I reported two days ago, the 2019 European Solheim Cup team included five recent Womens Amateur winners from four different countries – Celine Boutier (2015), Georgia Hall (2013), Azahara Munoz (2009), Anna Nordqvist (2008) and Carlota Ciganda (2007).

The R&A’s desire to stage both amateur events this year is understandable, but don’t be surprised if they’re watered down versions of recent years. Given the current crisis, it will be no surprise if both championships feature mainly players from the four home nations.

It might be easy to identify the flags flying above Royal Birkdale and West Lancs. There might not be many to count, and that will be a shame.

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