Mark Lawrie has been the executive director of the Argentine Golf Association since 2000, and at the end of January, he will move on to become the regional director for Latin America for The R&A. This is not only a new role for Lawrie, but a newly created position, and clear recognition of the game’s potential for expansion in the region.
The PGA Tour has also moved into Latin America in a significant way, having launched PGA Tour Latinoamerica in 2012. That tour has expanded from 11 events in its first year to 20 events in 2015.
“By and large, we are looking at a very exciting time for golf in this region,” said Lawrie, 57, a fourth-generation Argentine. “There’s no doubt that the PGA Tour was making note of what was going on here, the raw talent; there’s a mix here that I think moving ahead is going to be very powerful in terms of the quality of the players.”
The inaugural Latin America Amateur Championship has drawn 109 players from 28 of the 29 countries in the region, and along with expanded opportunities for players, Lawrie sees only good things for regional golf staffs as they conduct the LAAC alongside administrators from the Masters Tournament, The R&A and the USGA.
“One of the big things that comes to my mind is legacy,” said Lawrie. “I think that this event is going to sow seeds, and I’m seeing them being sown this week: at the superintendents’ level, at the Rules level, at running a championship. We are very engaged in the whole process and we’ll leave with a lot of new ideas to implement in the future for golf in Argentina.”
In January 2016, the LAAC will be played in the Dominican Republic, on the Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo, where Lawrie foresees similar collaboration.
“If we can take this template to every country that we take this event to, with a similar integration, I can only see positives in that,” said Lawrie.
As the game expands in the region, Lawrie is encouraged by the presence of players such as Juan Alvarez, 21, of Uruguay, who is tied for sixth place after three rounds at 4-under-par 212.
“Juan is a good example of what can be achieved by somebody who doesn’t come from wealth and has been given a pathway in Uruguay to be here – not only be here, be one of the leading players here,” said Lawrie. “In terms of The R&A’s involvement with Juan, I don’t know that we could claim any credit. But certainly the amount of work done in many aspects that help a fellow like Juan, like Rules, course conditioning, seminars, etc., I think every one of these aspects will influence and help develop players.”
The key, said Lawrie, is finding and developing more players who will boost the level of the game across the region.
“What we really look forward to is where do we find more Juans in Uruguay, how do we help Uruguay develop structures that will produce many more Juans.”
Inherent in the expanded opportunities is the knowledge that the winner of the LAAC will earn exemptions into such prestigious events as the Masters, the British Amateur Championship and the U.S. Amateur Championship.
“For golf amateurs in this region, to be able to play for the amount of cookies that they are playing, is absolutely amazing,” said Lawrie. “I know that some amateurs who are no longer active regret that they missed this great opportunity.”
Starting in February, Lawrie will take advantage of his new opportunity to explore the potential for the game in Latin America.
“I plan to go out there and try to talk to as many people, visit as many countries, take in all the information possible,” he said. “We will use the wealth of knowledge that The R&A already has in terms of what they have done internationally, and see in what areas we can assist and what are the most effective ways to assist.”
Lawrie used a common analogy to make his point.
“I don’t think it’s only money,” he said. “I’m a great believer in teaching you to fish, not giving you the fish. And I think if we can move in that direction, certainly it will be the most effective way to help develop golf in this region.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.