In 2009, the R&A and The Masters joined forces with the Asia Pacific Golf Federation to organize the Championship with the goal of growing the game in the Asia Pacific region and 14 years on, it is safe to say that this goal has been achieved beyond even the most optimistic of expectations.
The Asia Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) has produced major champions, it has inspired countless young people to take up the sport and continue to excel, and it has spawned more international amateur tournaments (men’s and women’s) that have propelled the development of the sport to other parts of the world.The AAC has changed the face of the game.
The winner of the AAC receives an entry into the Open Championship and the Masters with an exemption to the Amateur Championship, and the runner-up (or multiple runner-ups) receives an entry into the Open Qualifying Tournament. The top prizes mean a great deal and are potentially life-changing for those who receive them, and the wider impact of the Championship is huge for the game of golf. Not only has the standard of amateur golf improved across the Asia-Pacific region, but investment at grassroots level has increased as countries seek to grow the sport and create new champions.
In the R&A’s latest Global Participation Report, released in August this year, the number of golfers playing Asia’s nine and 18-hole courses increased by 2.5 million between 2012 and 2022 (and now stands at more than 16 million). The number of registered golfers in Oceania increased from 1.65 million to 2.8 million over the same period, and the AAC has undoubtedly played a role in inspiring people in the region to take up the sport.
The inaugural AAC was held at Mission Hills Golf Club in China in 2009 and was won by 17-year-old Changwon Han of Korea. The following year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to play in the AAC for the first time when it was held at Kasumigaseki Golf Club outside Tokyo, the venue for the 2020 Olympic Games golf tournament. I was surprised by the level of organization at the time – although the R&A and The Masters were a pretty impressive team for co-hosting the tournament! However, even at this early stage, the support for the Championship and the infrastructure available was impressive. A large crowd watched home favorite Hideki Matsuyama take the title. He was a shy 18-year-old at the time, but it was clear that he had quite a special talent, which was realized in 2021 when he became the first Japanese player to win a men’s Grand Slam title.
Matsuyama’s victory at the 2021 Masters was a clear testament to the impact the AAC has had on the world of tennis. The Japanese star won the AAC title two years in a row, in 2010 and 2011, and continues to enjoy a stellar career. 2022 Open Champion Cameron Smith is also an AAC alumnus, which means that the top men’s tournaments in the R&A and Masters have been won by players who have competed in the AAC – a fact that is in itself a testament to the management of the AAC. -a fact that in itself justifies the governing body’s investment.
International Amateur Events
The AAC is the first in a series of international championships that the R&A has created or co-creates to grow the sport in different parts of the world. The Latin American Amateur Championship (LAAC) began in 2015 and has produced alumni including Joaquin Niemann, Sebastian Munoz and Mito Pereira. 2018 saw the establishment of the Women’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and from 2021 onwards, the R&A has partnered with Annika Funds to create the AAC. In 2018, the Women’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship was established and since 2021, the R&A has co-hosted the Women’s Latin American Amateur Championship with the Annika Foundation.
The R&A recently concluded the cycle of men’s amateur international events, announcing at this year’s Open Championship that the inaugural African Amateur Championship will be held at Leopard Creek Golf Club in South Africa next February. The winner of that event will qualify for the 152nd Open Championship at Royal Troon.
The AAC paved the way for these other global initiatives, expanding the scope of elite golf in developing golf regions and focusing the attention of national associations and top players to improve and move forward.
For those at the top levels of amateur golf, the sport can shape and change their lives. A good example of this is the number of people attending the AAC in Royal Melbourne this week who are currently attending universities in the United States. In fact, of the 120 participants in the 14th AAC, no fewer than 37 players are in college.