Sheer numbers make the Mid-Amateur Golf Championship, represented by 264 businessmen/players from 39 states and Canada, the largest endeavor any Baltimore-area course has ever conducted. In fact, not one but two facilities, Caves Valley and Woodholme Country Club, will be utilized to accommodate the enormous field that will take six days of competition to decide a champion.
From another perspective, if you could link all their opening drives together they may stretch all the way to Punxsutawney, Pa., and beyond. The Mid-Amateur, being played for the 15th time and under the guidance of the U.S. Golf Association, is directed to golfers who play for the true spirit of the sport . . . the competition and camaraderie. Not a check.
They have no professional tour ambitions because they work for a living -- including salesmen, brokers, plumbers, teachers, physicians, candlestick-makers and what-have-you's. For the most part, they are married men, with families, mortgages to meet and other bills to pay. Golf is their avocation, a love of their life, and the Mid-Amateur was devised to enable them to remain involved on a national level.
Otherwise, they would be pressing to find a place in the U.S. Amateur Championship, which is dominated by young crushers of the ball, many of whom are still in college. Realistically, there wouldn't be much chance for the 25-year-olds and up so the Mid-Amateur was invented for them.
This didn't fit well with some of the USGA purists, including the late exalted leader, P. J. Boatright, who never thought enough of the concept even to go watch it. Yet it has succeeded on its own, found a place on the calendar and a future for itself.
Reg Murphy, president of the USGA, who is presiding at his final tournament before his two-year term expires, says, "It's my guess this is what amateur golf is all about. It is for me. People in it choose to make a living in a different way. They don't play the pro tour; they play their own tour."
Qualifying began this summer for 3,500 Mid-Amateur hopefuls with designs on earning a place among the 264 competing in Baltimore this weekend. The entry list is so extensive the golfers will alternate on Saturday and Sunday playing Caves Valley and Woodholme. The low scores of the best 64 will then begin match play on Monday, when all the rounds from that point on will be staged at Caves Valley.
There's no admission being charged and complimentary parking for 1,000 cars will be provided in an open field across the road from the entrance to Caves Valley, with a shuttle service carrying spectators to the course. No doubt, private Caves Valley, opened to the public for the first time in its almost five-year history, will be a draw in itself.
The field is imposing, including three former National Amateur title winners, Stewart Alexander, John Harris and Mitch Voges; seven winners of past Mid-Amateurs in Danny Yates, Jeff Thomas, Jim Taylor, Jim Stuart, Bill Hoffer, Jim Holtgrieve and Tim Jackson; and former Walker Cup players Doug Ballenger, Jerry Courville, Frank Fuhrer, John Grace, George Marucci Jr., Marty West and, repeating, Yates, Alexander, Harris, Holtgrieve, Hoffer, Jackson and Voges.
Murphy says there has never been so much enthusiasm for a Mid-Amateur played anywhere as is being displayed at Woodholme and Caves Valley, proving again how Baltimore has for too long been denied an opportunity to host a national event.
The last one was in 1988, the U.S. Women's Open at Five Farms, which was greeted with larger galleries than the players had ever seen in more than 40 years of playing in cities, large and small, all over the country.
Michael Davis, manager of championship relations for the USGA, is elated with the Caves Valley/Woodholme welcome. "There's something about these two clubs that tells me they are going to prove to be the perfect hosts," he comments. "Not only are they ecstatic over being involved with this kind of an undertaking, but they are intent on seeing the players enjoy themselves while in Baltimore. I've never seen this much enthusiasm and I've been in this position for six years."
"We just know it's going to be good," said Dennis Satyshur, the host professional at Caves Valley. "Over 300 volunteers are giving their time from area golf clubs to make sure we have every detail covered. The drought the last five weeks has hampered the growth of our rough, but tees and greens are of bent grass and have a high tolerance for heat at both Woodholme and Caves. We're ready to go."
It's likely that if Caves Valley produces what is expected to be a well-organized tournament the USGA will come forth with the awarding of other events. Maybe a Senior Open, a National Amateur, a Walker Cup and, along about the year 2009, the U.S. Open. It can happen.
This is the beginning of Caves Valley, most emphatically, becoming a serious contender as a future site for hosting the ultimate in golf competition. With the USGA, it's a matter of proving your right to be their partner on the tee and Caves Valley is making a favorable impression.