USGA GOLF JOURNAL
January 24, 2022
By Tom Mackin
The following content was first published in Golf Journal, a quarterly print and monthly digital publication exclusively for USGA Members. To be among the first to receive Golf Journal and to learn how you can help make golf more open for all, become a USGA Member today.
Puerto Rico is no stranger to hosting global golf events. In 1961, the U.S. pair of Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret won the Canada Cup, an international event featuring two-man teams. The same event, then known as the World Cup of Golf, returned in 1994, with Davis Love III and Fred Couples capturing the title. In 2004, the island hosted the 24th World Amateur Team Championships, and the PGA Tour has visited annually since 2008.
Still, something had always been missing: a USGA championship. That changes this coming April when the Grand Reserve Golf Club, located in the waterfront town of Rio Grande, about 20 miles east of San Juan, hosts the 7th U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship. It will mark the first time a USGA championship has been held outside the mainland United States in a U.S. territory.
For Sidney Wolf, president of the Puerto Rico Golf Association (PRGA) since 1995, the championship assignment was a reflection of the PRGA’s increased stature in the region. “This wouldn’t happen if we weren’t who we are, being able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together for this opportunity,” he said. “We are very honored.”
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The long journey to hosting duties began in the early 1990s, when the PRGA began a push to bring the World Amateur Team Championships to Puerto Rico. That eventually came to pass in 2004.
“(Former USGA executive director) David Fay was very much a mentor and a supporter of what we did here in Puerto Rico,” said Wolf. “I give a lot of credit to him and the USGA Executive Committee at that time for helping us stand out in the region. We opened an office, built up a staff and became a little bit more of a formal golf association. Today, being able to say we have hosted everything from local, regional and international events to the PGA Tour brought us closer to top organizations in the Americas. We’ve done it well thanks to help from the USGA and The R&A.”
In September 2018, Wolf met with then-CEO Mike Davis at USGA headquarters in New Jersey. “We were offered the chance to become an Allied Golf Association, which was a very big decision to make,” Wolf recalled. “Mike talked about their dream to have the first USGA championship outside the mainland go to Puerto Rico.
“Our board said yes immediately,” said Wolf. “It means a lot to us that they trusted us with this opportunity to host the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball. That one-day meeting was a game-changer.”
In fact, had you asked Wolf which USGA championship he would have most wanted to come to Puerto Rico, he would have said the Women’s Amateur Four-Ball. “If anything is going to help us grow the sport in that segment here, this was the one,” he said. “The men’s and kids’ games are doing great, but with the women, as in most places, we could be doing better. This is going to be very special for Puerto Rico. I want to have a significant female presence around this championship.”
The venue, Grand Reserve Golf Club, sits on the island’s northeast coast. Full of palm trees and lagoons, the classic Caribbean-style layout was designed by 1992 U.S. Open champion Tom Kite. It has hosted the Puerto Rico Open since 2008, with winners including Tony Finau in 2016 and Viktor Hovland, the 2018 U.S. Amateur champion, in 2020.
Puerto Rico native Francisco Rivera, assistant director of Rules for the USGA since 2019, knows Grand Reserve well.
“What the course brings is a lot of flexibility,” Rivera said. “With the amount of tee platforms, you can really make it very interesting for match play. There are a lot of reachable par 4s, and the par 3s can be stretched up to 200 yards. The wind is a big factor, and the best example of that impact comes from the PGA Tour event – there were years of the winning score at 7 under, and in other years with no wind it could be 21 under.”
“Being a course that holds a PGA Tour event, it’s got the length,” said Aaron West, director of golf at Grand Reserve. “There’s rarely a hole where you have trouble on both sides. You can hit it long and if you are just off the fairway or in the rough, you’re still OK. It doesn’t prefer someone who fades the ball or someone who draws the ball. Both of those shots are out there.”
For logistical reasons, the nines might be flipped from the routing used during the annual PGA Tour event, bringing a stretch of key holes much earlier in the round.
“Much of the character of the golf course is in those last five holes of what would be the front nine,” West said. “Putting will be the big difference-maker, and it will be interesting to see how the players adjust to the green contours and the paspalum grass. Since the course is very close to El Yunque National Forest, the wind patterns can be very inconsistent.”
West is well aware of just what a big deal it is for Puerto Rico to host the championship, and he hopes to expand on the impact already delivered by Maria Fernanda Torres, who in 2017 became the first Puerto Rico native to qualify for the LPGA Tour; she also represented Puerto Rico in the 2021 Olympics in China.
“I think it’s great for women and girls’ golf,” said West. “The PGA Tour is great, but that rotates around 50 weeks a year. Both the lead-up to the championship and what we do after it will determine the impact it has on women’s golf here.”
For Wolf, the championship is a crowning achievement in a career dedicated to promoting golf in Puerto Rico.
“I remember after we were named to host the 2004 World Amateur Team Championships, Stephanie Parel at the USGA told me, ‘Never forget, it’s a championship. That is different than a tournament.’ I always talk to people here about that. When we talk about tournaments, that’s what we have every weekend. When you talk about a championship, breathe deep and say ‘championship.’”
Good advice for the 128 competitors who will assemble in April at Grand Reserve and vie to raise a USGA trophy in a place that has supported the game for decades.