Venues and Variety Spur Four-Ball Growth in Year Two May 20, 2016 | MAMARONECK, N.Y. By Bill Fields

In just its second year, the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship has visited The Olympic Club (above) and now Winged Foot. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

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Bill McCarthy, director of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, recalls USGA Executive Director and CEO Mike Davis talking about the possibility of a partner event a long time ago.

“I remember 17 or 18 years ago, Mike saying wouldn’t it be cool if we had a four-ball or foursomes championship,” McCarthy said. “So to see it come to fruition last year at Olympic was pretty neat. There is just a different vibe at this championship compared to an individual competition. They’re with a partner, with a friend, with a fellow competitor from other championships. It’s a different type of atmosphere.”

After a successful debut at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball is at another highly regarded venue: Winged Foot Golf Club outside New York City, beginning with the first round of stroke play on Saturday. It goes to Pinehurst No. 2 next year, Jupiter Hills in 2018 and Philadelphia Cricket Club in 2020; the 2019 site has yet to be finalized.

“Serious conversations started happening four or five years ago in terms of trying to make this happen,” McCarthy said. “We thought getting this off the ground, we’d love to have some dream sites lead us off. I think the lineup itself established the championship to be great right away.”

The marquee courses have added to the appeal of the championship, which has attracted a broad spectrum of players – from ages 15 to 59 this year, with diverse backgrounds.

“I think the format lends itself to seeing a larger demographic range within the players,” said McCarthy. “We’d like a field to represent American golf, and this does. You’ve got kids. You’ve got older folks. You’ve got brothers and fathers and sons. You’ve got private-club players, resort-club players and true public-course players. It’s just terrific in terms of the demographics.”

The establishment of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball wasn’t tied to the recent retirement of the U.S. Amateur Public Links, but the Four-Ball has produced a welcome variation in the makeup of the field compared to the Amateur Public Links, which was retired alongside the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links after the 2014 season.

“Even though the Four-Ball was not intended to replace the Public Links,” said McCarthy, “I think philosophically it has, because it is more representative of public golf and golf in general than the APL was due to the nature of the field. The last 15 years, the Public Links field was mostly elite college players. I’d venture 35 to 40 percent of this field are true public players.”

Due to the popularity of the four-ball format in state and regional golf associations, the USGA had an inkling its team championship would be popular. That has proven to be the case. A total of 2,432 teams entered this year, 198 more than in 2015.

“If you look at our championships by entry, if you counted individuals as opposed to sides, it would be the Open, Amateur and Four-Ball in terms of most entries,” said McCarthy.

The ingredients for success are present. Tradition will just take time.

“I don’t think there is anything left to tweak,” McCarthy said. “It’s a matter of letting it grow and develop its own identity as a championship. And I think the lineup of host sites that we have, and the wide demographic of players, is going to let that happen.”

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who regularly contributes to USGA websites.

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