Is The Latin America Amateur Championship The Perfect Golf Tournament?

The Latin America Amateur Championship is a small but perfectly formed golf event showcasing the qualities of our sport in microcosm.

The Santa Maria Golf Course in Panama
(Image credit: LAAC)

Imagine if golf’s governing bodies got together to run a tournament for a selection of the most talented young players on the planet, on a world-class course in a tropical paradise. An event in which the scintillating standard of on-course action was accompanied by a four-day, off-course fiesta for golf enthusiasts. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Well, that event exists – The Latin America Amateur Championship.

If you put on an elite golf competition with all the appropriate knowledge and resources at your disposal, this is what you get. Here’s why the LAAC is the perfect golf tournament.

The Set-Up

governing bodies

Fred Ridley, Mike Whan and Martin Slumbers - Not a bad squad to organise a tournament!

(Image credit: LAAC)

It’s hardly surprising that when The Masters Tournament, The R&A and the USGA team up to stage a golf tournament, they do it rather well. The LAAC runs like a well-oiled machine. There is surely no golf event on earth run with such precision and excellence as the LAAC. Every single requirement is considered and catered for, from the practice ground to the buffet lunches, not a single step is out of place.

The golf is managed by (quite literally) the best in the business: crack teams from golf’s governing bodies co-ordinating the course set-up, the refereeing, the weather forecasting, the scoring, the media centre, the whole nine yards.

The players are given all the support and information they could require – they’re amateur golfers but they’re treated like the top professionals. They won’t see such exceptional tournament organisation again unless, or until, they make it to the very pinnacle of the sport.

The Golf

Justin Hastings

Justin Hastings of the Cayman Islands

(Image credit: LAAC)

The level of talent in the LAAC is about as high as it gets in amateur golf. The players demonstrate incredible skill and flair. For a golf lover, walking a few holes with some of these youngsters is an absolute treat. They play with confidence and freedom – booming drives, daring recoveries, incredible touch around the greens. They aren’t professionals yet, but you can see how many of them will go on to excel at the highest level. LAAC alumni like Joaquin Niemann and Sebastian Munoz have proved that.

And the great thing about spectating at the LAAC is that you can see everything up close because there’s hardly anybody else out there watching. It’s amazing that so few golf fans have cottoned on to the brilliant golf viewing experience the LAAC offers – The chance to walk the fairways with some of the next generation of golf’s superstars as they demonstrate their very best stuff. If you appreciate great ball striking and shot-making, the LAAC has you covered.

The Setting

Santa Maria

Santa Maria Golf Club

(Image credit: Fergus Bisset)

This year, the LAAC is being contested over the superb Nicklaus designed course at Santa Maria Golf Club in Panama. The tournament visits some of the most exciting and select venues on planet golf – Santiago, Buenos Aires, the Dominican Republic … A theme is – it’s always warm, the food and wine are always good and the people are always friendly… Quite a good combination. If you're looking to combine holidays to exotic destinations with a spot of golf spectating, you couldn’t do much better than to follow the LAAC each year.

The passion

Aaron Jarvis

2022 LAAC Champion Aaron Jarvis

(Image credit: LAAC)

The event is generally staged in, relatively speaking, emerging golfing nations. Those who work to bring the event to their country, and then to host it, are extreme golf enthusiasts who demonstrate a passion and love for the sport that’s a pleasure to witness. We’ve had golf for so long in the UK that we sometimes forget what an incredible sport it is: How it brings people together, instils values of integrity and decency, inspires excellence while edifying acceptance of failure. Golf is a great teacher and all its lessons are on the timetable at the LAAC.

The players

Alvaro Ortiz

55-year-old Alvaro Ortiz

(Image credit: LAAC)

Most of the 108 players in the field are youngsters, starting out on their golfing journeys. They are fresh, enthusiastic and excited for the future. But there are older competitors too. In fact, the age range is big – the youngest player this year has been Gustavo Giacometti of Brazil (just 14) and the oldest is Costa Rica’s Alvaro Ortiz at a sprightly 55. He’s played in all nine instalments of the LAAC and continues to perform at a very high standard, although he says this may be his last outing in the tournament. 

The prizes

The prizes

There's quite a bit to play for!

(Image credit: LAAC)

The players aren’t competing for massive cheques, but they are playing for big prizes and the pressure that brings makes for compelling action as the tournament reaches its conclusion.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to compete in the 2024 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club and will automatically qualify for The 152nd Open Championship at Royal Troon. The winner will also earn a spot in the US Open, held this year at Pinehurst.

The winner also receives full exemptions into The 129th Amateur Championship, the US Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible.

Runner(s)-up will be exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The 152nd Open and the 124th U.S. Open Championship.

Victory in this tournament could be life-changing and the buzz and excitement throughout the field is always palpable.

The atmosphere


A putting comp!

(Image credit: LAAC)

In fact, the buzz running through the whole event is palpable. The players, the coaches, the officials, the press, the friends and family, all are excited to be in attendance and to witness the next generation of Latin American players excelling at something they clearly love. Off the course, every evening sees a party of some type – people from 28 Latin American countries getting together to celebrate a shared love for golf… As you might imagine, that makes for quite a lot of fun.

If all this sounds like a sales pitch then, well actually… I guess it is. I couldn’t recommend attending a Latin America Amateur Championship highly enough. If you like watching great golf and if you enjoy warm weather, beautiful settings, superb food and drink and great company then this event is very, very tough to beat.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?