Players Am returning to Berkeley Hall

The idea of the Players Amateur came back in 1999 when Bluffton golfers Tom McKnight and Duke Delcher were traveling to the U.S. Amateur Championship in Pebble Beach, Calif.

“It was a long flight and we had plenty of time on our hands,” Delcher said. “That’s where the idea came from. We felt it would be a good way to give back to the game that has been so good to us.”

The plan wasn’t just to host another tournament. It was to host THE tournament, featuring the best amateur golfers in the country. To get that level of players to come to Bluffton, McKnight and Delcher simply dusted off the Rolodex.

“We knew all the players,” McKnight said. “We knew the Matt Kuchars, the Bryce Molders and all those guys from playing with them. We kind of twisted their arm and were like, ‘Look, you guys need to come.’”

And come they did.

Kuchar and Molder were both there. So was James Driscoll, D.J. Trahan and a slew of other players that later advanced to the PGA Tour. The tournament was won by Ben Curtis, three years before he won the British Open.

“It gave us instant credibility,” McKnight said. “We had that great field of players, right off the bat. Once they got here and saw how good things were, it didn’t take long. Everybody wanted to come.”

And come they have.

Bill Haas, Camilo Villegas, Kyle Stanley, Rickie Fowler, Bud Cauley, Lucas Glover, J.B. Holmes, Dustin Johnson, Troy Matteson, Johnson Wagner, Nick Watney and several other current top professionals have tested their mettle in Bluffton before finding fortune and fame.

The top amateur players will be on display once again next month when the 2015 Players Amateur returns to Berkeley Hall Club.

The free event gives the public a chance to peek behind the gates of the private community, ranked “One of America’s 100 Premier Properties” by both Links magazine and Travel & Leisure Golf. One of the highlights of the club is its learning center, considered one of the top practice facilities in the world.

In 2004, McKnight and Delcher opted to give control of the Players Amateur to the Heritage Classic Foundation, the driving force behind the PGA Tour’s annual Heritage golf tournament on Hilton Head Island.

The foundation distributes all charitable funds generated from its tournaments. It also provides the winner of the Players Amateur a spot in the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage the following year.

Zimbabwean Scott Vincent earned the honor last year, beating out two others by one stroke to win the tournament. The field for the 2015 tournament is expected to be released in early July.

Since the beginning, the tournament has prided itself on making it easy for the players, hence the name. There are no registration fees. Accommodations, food and beverages are also provided. Tournament officials will even take players back to the airport. The players just need to get here.

And just like the past 15 years, the best amateur players almost certainly will.

THE 2012 PLAYERS AMATEUR

What: 2015 Players Amateur golf tournament (national event)
When: July 7-12
Where: South Course, Berkeley Hall Club, Bluffton
Schedule: Practice rounds July 7; Contestant-Amateur Tournament, 9 a.m., July 8; First Round, 7:15 a.m., July 9; Second Round, 7:15 a.m., July 10; Third Round, 7:15 a.m., July 11; Final Round, 7:15 a.m., July 12
Prizes: Players Amateur trophy; sponsors exemption into 2013 RBC Heritage, a PGA Tour event
Admission: Free
More information: www.playersam.com

PAST CHAMPIONS

2000: Ben Curtis
2001: Michael Sims
2002: Bill Haas
2003: Camilo Villegas
2004: Aron Price
2005: Brian Harman
2006: Jonathan Moore
2007: Rickie Fowler
2008: Mark Anderson
2009: Bud Cauley
2010: Kevin Tway
2011: Corbin Mills
2012: Daniel Nisbet
2013: Hunter Stewart
2014: Scott Vincent
2015: ?